It seems that many of the other reviewers truly did accept Twain's rendition of the town as truth. The Booklover review describes the book as "a genuine and realistic picture of that phase of American life with which the author is most familiar", and the Idler review calls it "a carefully painted picture of life in a Mississippi town in the days of slavery". The reviewer for the Cosmopolitan quite avidly affirms Twain's depiction in stating that "the Missouri village in which the scene is laid is so vividly realized in its minutest details; and the people, in all their fatuous prejudice and stolidity, are so credible and authentic, so steeped in the local atmosphere, that the illusion becomes perfect". This was the complete acceptance of Twain's every word on the subject which Mrs. McCulloch faced.
When British reviewers desired to describe the obtuseness of the townspeople in Mark Twain's town of Dawson's Landing, they commonly point to the passage in Puddn'head Wilson where the townspeople utterly fail to comprehend Mr. Wilson's joke of wishing he owned half of a barking dog so that he could kill it. While the passage surely displays the sluggishness of Twain's created townspeople, Mrs. Williams vehemently attacks the notion that this passage represents the intelligence or sense of humor of true Southerners. S he insists that quips of this type are commonplace in the South, and that even small children would have been capable of understanding the humor involved. She portrays the idea as so hackneyed that someone using it would be more likely to receive groans than laughter in response. She furthermore holds in contention Twain's assertion that slaves "hadn't the privilege" of possessing surnames. McCulloch claims that while slaves didn't retain their own family surnames, they did take great pride in using the surnames of their master, or the master's prestigious ancestors.
Surprisingly enough, the character which received the most critical praise was not Mr. Wilson, whose name serves as the book's title. Rather it is the character named Roxy, the 1/16 black slave woman, who causes the trouble of the story by switching two babies, her own slave child and a free white child. Throughout the British reviews, Twain is praised for his depiction of Roxy, even when it is considered the only positive thing about the story (such as in the Athenaeum review). She is generally not seen as a pure villainess in the story, but seems to be regarded as a strong, loving, character worthy of some sympathy. She is thought to be a noble figure doing what she feels is best for her child. However, Mrs. McCulloch was sure to point out that it was Roxy's own fault that her son was transformed into a spoiled monster who torments her - not for making the switch, but for failing to treat the two children impartially. She claims that a true, autocratic "black mammy" of the South would have spanked both children equally, regardless of their race. Thus she maintains that even the most strongly characterized person presented by Twain is a false representation of the true ways of her people. The corruption of young Tom is then the fault of Roxy, and not the Southern society.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Twain's fiction to Mrs.
McCulloch is the fact that most Southern readers fail to realize that he
is openly and aggressively confronting the Southern towns from which he
came. As she says in he review,
So far as I know, all that the South, either "Old" or "New," has ever done to Mr. Clemens has been to buy his books, when it had precious little money to buy anything, and to set him upon a pedestal as the very prince of humorists. Wherefore, I quite fail to comprehend why it pleases him to villify us as he is doing in this book.