A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

ISBN: 159818587X
ISBN 13: 9781598185874
By: Mark Twain Amy Sterling Casil

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About this book

Hank Morgan, a 19th century American, is sent back in time to 6th century England and opens up a debate on free will versus determinism and the monarchy versus democracy, as well as urging the reader to consider the consequences of technology gone mad.

Reader's Thoughts

Kara

Most people think they know this story - but they don't - they just know the fish-out-of-water story that is just the surface of this book; this is really a story of about the biggest problems Mark Twain observed in his time period, including slavery, abuses of political power, unchecked factory growth, child labor, and frightening new war technology. The final battle scene eerily predicts World War One. While the book has many funny moments, it's really a somber, reflective, sad story.

Benjamin

I don't know if anything will ever beat--for emotional intensity and moral education--Huck Finn's "All right, then, I'll go to Hell" (when he recognizes that Jim is as human as he is, and that he can either ignore that fact and get along in life, or be ejected from the world and hold on to that truth). Connecticut Yankee has no such moral clarity, which is both its promise and its curse.The moral obscurity of Connecticut Yankee comes out to trouble the reader anytime the reader begins to get comfortable with the frame here. I mean, a satirical critique is only understandable from a particular frame; that is, while critiquing some topic (say, Catholic superstition), Twain is privileging some other approach to the world (say, scientific progress), either implicitly or explicitly.But Twain's satire here shifts over the course of the novel, until the reader may not have any dry place to stand in this sea of bitterness: when the novel starts, Hank Morgan may seem crafty and capable, a perfect trickster hero--Bugs Bunny, but with expertise in mechanics instead of cross-dressing. (It occurs to me now that there has to be a Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court version, and lo and behold.) And Morgan takes some hearteningly democratic and modern standpoints throughout the novel: he's for the small people; he recognizes the social pressures that substitute meaningless signs for actual economic progress (his chapter "6th Century Political Economy" might as well be called "What's the Matter with Camelot?" after Thomas Frank's book on Kansas); he seems capable of inventing all sorts of labor-saving devices; and he keeps a certain cool detachment that often prevents him from taking himself too seriously.And, then, in the blink of an eye, he can kill a knight for telling a bad joke, organize the pulverization of the countryside, and talk about how he's spreading American-style democracy whether the people want it or no (and, well, you can't make an omelet without a few casualties). If you could read this book in 2000 and miss the satire on Morgan's rah-rah imperialism, it's harder to ignore post-"Operation Iraqi Freedom." (There's actually an entire article I read that makes the Morgan-Bush connection; it's slightly harder to imagine an article making the Bugs Bunny-Bush connection, if only because Bugs's wars are all defensive in fact.) While we might be horrified by the unchecked power wielded by Morgan le Fay, we also recognize King Arthur's heroism; as much as we recognize our historical gains in this novel (we have bicycles and voting!), we also recognize our historical losses by the end.(One of my favorite ways that this uncertain position--both of gain and loss simultaneously--comes out in this novel is the use of language: Twain not only gives us this eerily pitch-perfect Arthurianisms, and the super-slangy Yankeeisms of Morgan, but he shows what happens when they collide; our first clue that Alisande might be more than just a damsel in distress is probably when she appreciates Morgan's idiom "hang out": Then she said musingly, and softly, turning the words daintily over her tongue: "Hang they out -- hang they out -- where hang -- where do they hang out; eh, right so; where do they hang out. Of a truth the phrase hath a fair and winsome grace, and is prettily worded withal. I will repeat it anon and anon in mine idlesse, whereby I may peradventure learn it. Where do they hang out. Even so! already it falleth trippingly from my tongue...")Lastly, as has been noted, some of this moral uncertainty has a lot to do with Twain's biography; for one thing, during the writing of this novel, he sunk a lot of money into the Paige Compositor, a type-setting machine that failed to work. So much for technology!Note: One thing to note is that the moral uncertainty that troubles the reader of the text finds no purchase in Dan Beard's illustrations, which are very clear about their populist politics.

Stela

I have to say I browsed the final chapters - even if I understand the message, the book seemed to me longish and somehow boring, too long for a parody, anyway, and too many themes not so developed at all - politics, society, even linguistics and I didn't like the choice of the historical period, why King Arthur, anyway? Maybe because his figure is half historical half mythological and therefore you can put him in (almost) any historical context you want, but he is also a symbol and I wish he remained like thatMaybe I'll re-read it sometime in the future but I'm not so sure.

Rob

I was disappointed in this book, mainly because I feel Twain ruined what could have been a fine book with his unwieldy, savage cynicism. It's clear to me that he goes into this tale with an axe to grind, and the harsh marks of his attack with that implement are everywhere. I am a great admirer of Twain, but in this his shows the same ire I see in Letters from the Earth. I understand the 'why' of that in Letters: Twain feels the practices he derides have done harm to mankind, which Twain wishes to 'awaken'. It is the satire of the Malcontent, as harsh and shrill as anything Swift writes towards the end of Gulliver's Travels. But has the Arthurian cycle been guilty of a similar offense, that it should be treated in this manner? So far as I can tell, Twain never makes that clear. I understand his shrillness in Letters, just as I do in Swift. But here, I do not.

Erik Graff

One of the many good things about lying in order to avoid junior high school is that it allows time to read good books. Having done the old "thermometer to the light bulb" trick, I spent a very productive couple of days home in bed reading, among other things, Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.My parents weren't entirely stupid. My frequent illnesses had to be demonstrated by coughing, dripping, abnormal temperature and the like. Since they were still suspicious, it was a rule that I had to stay in bed when ill. This meant no television, no telephone, no sunny days in the backyard with the dog. I don't think they intended to promote reading by this stricture, but it certainly worked that way.

Casey

I head seen and heard little tidbits about 'Connecticut Yankee...' over the past several years. It is one of Twain's most well known novels, after Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, but I've mostly caught references to the story in parodies featuring Bugs Bunny or Martin Lawrence. That is to say that the time travel to the Middle Ages gag has been overutilized of late. However, the book is a commentary on the ways of modern life, as much as it is a damning critique of powerlessness of 6th Century peasants.I won't spoil the sumptuous morsels in the book, but the protagonist Hank Morgan finds himself in the time of King Arthur Pendragon. After being hustled into prison for insulting the honor of a member of the Knight-Errantry, Hank cleverly saves himself from his own execution by using a combination of clever science and good timing. Because of the perception of his powers, he gets himself established as King Arthur's closest minister and magician, displacing the scheming, foul-tempered Merlin. Instead of taking the name of Dukeship, he settles for the title of 'The Boss.'Far from wanting to apply the fear and power that his station allows him, he sets about modernizing the 6th Century, with all the wonders of the 19th Century, in an attempt to liberate the abused and dispossessed peasant masses. His inventions range from the hysterical and quirky, to clever and impressive. Electricity, firearms, locomotives, and advertising all come about through Morgan's hand.But, as the book progresses, and he tries to teach King Arthur to amend the intransigence of his noble breeding to empathize with the plight of the poor English peasants, he directly challenges the authority of the Knight-Errantry, and stirs up a disastrous conflict with a desperate enemy.In many ways, the novel works to dispel the notion that technology and education (and all the good things that come along with both of those) can reverse the damage of Centuries of indoctrination and institutional rule. Twain is at his most fatalistic here when he builds our hopes and expectations to believe that through determination and good will, one man can really confront and defeat the injustice of a nation, only to dash them. He seems clear (and the introduciton to my volumes hits on this) that Mark Twain is making a cogent point about the trappings of the Industrial Age of the 19th Century, and predicting the rise and fall of the Labor Class in America.Twain's brilliance comes through in the excitement and wonderment he builds when presenting the view of the "modern man" in a position to reshape our dismal and banal shared past. Even after 100 years, the novel retains relevance and Twain's laugh-out-loud wit, leaving me wondering what I hadn't read this book before.

Megan

This is a paper I wrote for a class on this novel. As John Dalberg-Acton, an English historian, politician, and writer, once said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This theme is illustrated by the character of Hank Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. Hank believes that he is the saving grace for the people of Camelot using capitalism as his means to set them free. However, can someone force freedom and a new ideology onto people, and was Hank really just trying to better himself and enhance his power? Following the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely, Twain shows through his satirical wit that a bloodless revolution is not possible through any change in ideology, especially when the change is to capitalism, which is seen as just another form of corruption and slavery. On his arrival to Camelot, Hank refers to the people as animals, such as calling them sheep or rabbits. “They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits” (78). In this way he refers to them as weak minded, only capable of reproducing and becoming a bigger mass of uneducated people that, like sheep, need a leader. Hank is the leader he thinks they need. His ultimate goal is to lead the people in a bloodless revolution, which he intends to orchestrate through a capitalist society. After he gains the title of Sir Boss, his first official acts were starting a patent office and then factories. These factories included the Man factories, “a Factory where I’m going to turn groping and grubbing automata into men” (173)*. On the outside these could be seen as a form of people’s empowerment where Hank is educating the masses, turning them into men and leading them towards the light of the 19th century. However, the reality is just Hank showing off his power and knowledge, believing that he is much smarter than the people of Camelot and therefore can rule them easily. Even though Hank does have good intentions of leading the people through a revolution and educating them, it has always been said “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What these factories are really achieving is giving Hank more power. The factories are used to create technology that only Hank knows how to use and what they are used for. Capitalizing on their superstitions, Hank uses these technologies to sway people to follow him. Using dynamite and fireworks, he undermines Merlin and gains power by proving, through the technology, that he is a greater magician. He also builds a gun and kills countless knights to further prove that he is stronger and more powerful.“When you are going to do a miracle for an ignorant race, you want to get in every detail that will count; you want to make all the properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make matters comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose and play your effects for all they are worth. I know the value of these things, for I know human nature” (235).Hank can easily be seen at these moments as a con man bluffing and using his wits to make a profit and gain followers. He uses their weaknesses to give himself more strength. Even in the end of the novel, Hank writes a proclamation claiming that he and the people of Camelot are now a government of and for the people, but then signs it from The Boss. His signing it The Boss instead of The People shows that he still believes that he is above the people and that they need to be ruled. They may have a better form of government but they still need someone like Hank to make all the important decisions for them. Even though in Hank’s mind he now sees the people as men, in his actions he still sees them as sheep. Hank uses the concept of capitalism in Camelot as a way to better himself by tricking the people into thinking that he is helping them. When asked what capitalism is, people most likely answer that it is a free market involved in free trade outside of government regulations. Capitalism is in fact is a monopolized ownership of the means of production and is a system of wage labor. Capitalism is just a sweet illusion of freedom when in fact it is just a clever form of enslavement. Using capitalism Hank changes the structure of those in power. He takes the knights and turns them into walking billboards for things such as soap, which in a means degrades their power and just makes them a cog in the capitalist’s machine. “Brother! -- to dirt like this?” (295). History is cyclical in nature. There is always someone in power and always someone who is oppressed; it is just that the means of oppression get sneakier using hope and the potential for growth in power as their allies. First in history there was the king and his serfs, then the slave master and his slaves, and now we see the capitalist and his worker.“The most of King Arthur’s British nation were slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name… and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name; they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves so” (79).Hank sees all the people in Camelot as slaves even though they don’t realize it. Just his title, Hank is The Boss, shows that he controls the workers, what they make, what they are taught, and their profit. He holds all the power in this capitalist situation. Even though Hank feels like he is doing the people of Camelot a favor, he is just performing a more secretive form of slavery. He is ultimately trying to force this new ideology of capitalism upon the masses trying to convince them of his bloodless revolution and with his scenes and lies they follow him. Hank’s bloodless revolution is eventually found to be impossible, showing again how history is cyclical. No revolution is victorious without bloodshed. The violence of capitalism, such as getting hit over the head in the workplace, is what initially what brought Hank to Camelot and it is also what destroys Camelot. “I was turning on my light one-candle power at a time, and meant to continue to do so” (99). Hank, throughout all of his schemes, was planning to turn on the lights to people in Camelot, making them brighter and showing them the light which only technology of the 19th century can bring. But it turns out differently than what he planned, “So I touched a button and set fifty electric sums aflame on the top of the precipice… We were enclosed in tree walls of dead men” (460). Everything Hank has worked for all his factories and technology are in the end used as weapons of mass destruction killing hundreds of knights. Hank blows up all his factories and finally flicks on the switch, turning on the lights, and in that moment with the lights blazing, fries the enemy knights on the electric fence. As Hank looks around at his forces at the end of the battle, he sees only 54 of them left. Hank was unable to change many people’s ideologies through his schemes and technology and his idea of capitalism is a failure. In the end it is Merlin, the very person whose power Hank stole, who sends Hank back to his time. This represents that the original ideology of Camelot is what wins the revolution and is allowed to start over after the slate is wiped clean with the destruction of Camelot. Hank’s capitalist ideas and oppression by labor didn’t work and maybe, ultimately, it can’t work. Hank tried to change the ideology of the nation of Camelot into one similar to where he came from; he used the idea of capitalism. His plan was to use these ideas to create a brighter society turning them from sheep to men and leading them in a bloodless revolution. What Hank seemed to forget was the fact that he was actually just leading the people into a more subtle form of slavery and one that is more corrupt and violent than what they had before. In the end it is found that a bloodless revolution through a change in ideology is not altogether possible, especially when the leader of the revolution wants more power than what is already given to him. With capitalism already considered a corrupt ideology and the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely, it is easy to see why Hank’s plans don’t pan out in the end. People cannot be forced into changing what they believe no matter how enslaved they are seen from people on the outside. Update: received a 3.9 on this paper :)

Ken Elser

Although a bit of a mish-mash of ideas and stories and not particularly coherent in its structure, A Connecticut Yankee is surely an intriguing social commentary about the limits of progress and a strong condemnation of human nature. Twain uses his fantastical tale of a 19th century New Englander become right-hand man to King Arthur in the 6th century to illustrate his cynacism at the idea of true human progress and civilization, showing it to be ultimately self-defeating and as cruel as the midevil world that he imagines. In Twain's conception, a human being can never overcome their inborn superstitions and prejudices, despite any apparent progress in this vein. A critical review contained in my copy finds fault with the fact that Twain simply observes these failures of human nature laughingly, deriding while offering no solution. The real height of arrogance, however, would surely be to offer the platidudes that any such "solution" would have to represent. In the end, Twain does what he does best: He holds a mirror up to society and our own natures, that we might nod (and perhaps chuckle in a spasm of morbid humor) at the terms of our own sentence.

Chana

Sheesh, wrote a whole review, was about to hit save when the computer quit and I lost it! Here we go again:Our main character is a Connecticut Yankee who is cracked over the head with a crowbar in 1879 and wakes in England year 528. He is quickly taken prisoner and brought to King Arthur's Court and sentenced to death. Our "Hank" is a an American however; quick-witted, educated and optimistic. He remembers that an eclipse is due to take place shortly and manages not only to save himself, but to secure a position of second in command to the King.What I loved about this book is Mark Twain's use of the language, juxtaposing the archaic with the modern to a very amusing result, and often playing with the language with run on sentences that become nonsensical and using rhyme in clever ways to make his reader laugh. It reminded me at times of Mrs. Murphy's Chowder (bedslats, Democrats, floating all around!)I also love what I see as Mark Twain's quintessential American-ness. I often felt great waves of nostalgia and patriotism while reading this-- while I was also annoyed by what I perceived as the American superiority that permeates it. Our Hank is busy building factories, reducing the worth of coinage to save the government money, blowing things up, and finding fault with the realm (not too hard to do, that one).The book is very political in nature, even as it jokes along in rhyme and fantasy. Mark Twain has written a rambling, ruminating rant against slavery, oppression, injustice, monarchy, nobility and The Catholic Church while promoting education, science, a government for the people by the people, and religious faith and practice that is neither a monopoly nor a dictate.

Andrew

Mark Twain is my favorite American author, easily. The wit and sarcasm he uses is right up my alley, and his tales are easy to digest. A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is so good. I'd put it right up there with Huckleberry Finn, maybe even higher, since it doesn't slow down like Huck Finn. The conceit is that a 19th-century Connecticut factory manager bumps his head and winds up in King Arthur's time. The Boss, as he comes to be called, hates monarchy and the authoritarian barbarism he encounters, the sheer ignorance, and the unwillingness (or inability) of the people to change their backward ways. He despises chivalry and the stupidity of this world he inhabits, so he undertakes to take over early Britain using science and the people's own superstition. If you haven't read the book stop reading now. SPOILER ALERT!What's so beautiful about this book is that it obviously undercuts the Arthurian customs, but if you read closely, also takes it's whacks at 19th-century capitalist imperialists. Henry constantly refers to the people as animals or Indians, and his attempts to "civilize" these people all eventually fail. He criticizes the royalty for their wanton cruelty and violence, then proceeds to slaughter the whole of the royal class. He speaks of the poor indoctrination of these people, starts his own plan of indoctrination, yet can't escape the fact that his own indoctrination fails all but a few. He criticizes the state Church, then says that in his perfect state a man can be "any kind of Christian he wants to be." Mark Twain was too cynical to have done this unintentionally, although I admit that this is a reading that is outside the context of the time during which it was written. Twain's Uber-mensch becomes as much of an animalistic, cold-blooded killer as the very people he criticizes. The social commentary here is clear to me, that the machine of modern imperialism is just as brutal, maybe moreso for its efficiency, as the ancient ways from which we claim to be so far removed.

Laurele

Mark Twain's mastery of parody, social criticism, and knee-slapping comedy comes through clearly in this time-travel of the mind. Hello, Central!

Ruth Hinckley

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a train wreck of a novel that, if written today, would never have seen print. While notable for its innovation during its time and its hundred thousand imitators, the narrative is rambling, one-sided and frustrating.The book begins well enough, with a nineteenth century factory boss being transported into the past, where his knowledge of obscure trivia and "modern" science saves his life and earns him a position as a wizard. King Arthur and his court are described as "innocent savages", which the main character (whose name is mentioned not more than twice in the book) starts out trying to civilize. The nobility, of course, are resistant to these changes, and so our protagonist sets about to undermine and unseat them.From here it rumbles along with little in the way of character development, and 19th century technology developed whole cloth by a secret society of educated peasants. The narrative is interspersed with lengthy excerpts out of even more antiquated volumes - whose point or purpose is largely left unexplained - and lengthy jaunts into the countryside where every character who shows a bit of spirit is recruited into the secret technology schools, all under the nose of the oblivious king.There is very little which actually poses a challenge to our hero, which makes the reader yearn for something to backfire on him. Eventually it does - through no fault of his own, of course - but the lessons he and Arthur learn in this episode are squandered as the ending is rushed to a conclusion, with the downfall of our hero orchestrated by the previously impotent but much-maligned Established Church.At the end, there are questions left unanswered and foreshadowed promises left unfulfilled, with logical jumps and temporal leaps which confuse and frustrate. It almost seems to change voice in the middle, and more than once. Even as a satire it fails to satisfy, and a comedy it is most certainly not. To anyone wishing to familiarize themselves with the story, I recommend choosing one of its many imitators and enjoying yourself for an hour or a day with it. Your time will be better spent.

Suzanne Vrieze

My favorite passage of the book:I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive, finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house. ... The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it.

The other John

I checked this one out of the English library here on campus. I think I may be the only one here ever to appreciate this copy, as it's full, unabridged 19th Century writing, with many allusions to Malory's L'Morte d'Arthur, which your average Chinese student will probably not have read. Still you never know who might come along. I, at least, enjoyed it immensely, despite the fact that it's a tad nihilistic. It's the tale of one Hank Morgan, a superintendent in a gun factory in 19th Century Connecticut. He gets conked on the head one day and awakens in 6th Century England--the realm of King Arthur. Through his advanced scientific knowledge, Hank is able to discredit Merlin the magician and set himself up as advisor to the King. His adventures and attempts to reform the society are quite amusing. It's a sarcastic romp, in the acerbic Mark Twain style. There's also a dark undercurrent to the tale, however, which makes it like laughing in the face of death. So while I liked the book, I don't think I could ever love it like I do some of the more upbeat retellings of the Arthurian legends.

Franklin Peach

I Read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain to my kids (7-9). Having never read this classic before I expected it to be a little bit more 'kid oriented' than it was. There were many times when my 7 and 9 year-olds struggled to make it through the book.Yankee had so many facets to it that it is hard to pin down. At times it is laugh out loud funny, or highly ironic and other times the humor is quite dark. At still other times it is down right preachy, especially against Medieval Monarchy and the Catholic church. (be sure to be aware of this, I had to overcome some of Twain's biases against the Catholic Church) Sometimes it goes into great detail about topics that 7 and 9 year olds really would not care less about, There was a whole chapter of our Hero explaining about inflation and the value of money. Several times I had to get out the dictionary myself because I could not explain what the author was saying to my children without it.Kids will surprise you though. My 7 year-old, had about had it with Yankee, and although I wanted to push through the book, I am convinced that reading needs to be something they want to do. So I asked her if she wanted to finish the book, or to move on to our next one. I expected her to say "Let's read a different book, dad" and I was fully prepared to do it. However, she instead declared her intent to stick it out and we sat down to read the next chapter which was very engrossing and humorous to her and her brother, I knew we would be able to finish it after that.I am very glad we did finish it and I know my kids are too. We really enjoyed watching 'The Boss' (i.e. The Yankee) and King Author roam about the country incognito and how the King reacts to being sold into slavery, and their amazing and improbable rescue. The ending has absolutely stunning climax pitting 6th century England against the marvels of the The Boss' nineteenth century inventions. that I would have never guessed and my son loved it.As we read the book, it was interesting to see how easy a time The Boss had in the 6th Century and I made it a point several times to ask the children why they thought that was. The answer comes dripping out of the pages: the Boss can THINK, no one else there can. This type of sentiment about the people of 6th century England was a constant theme, like this quote in which The Boss refers to the Knights of the Round Table: There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fish-hook with; but you didn't seem to mind that, after a little, because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like that, and indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled its symmetry -- perhaps rendered its existence impossible.I would highly recommend this book for those 9 and up (although you might be safer at 11) who are studying history, government or sociology or just want a good read. There is a wealth of commentary in Yankee on each subject and it would be a fun way to explore ideas about each and about human nature itself.

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