Mark Twain and His Connecticut Yankee

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2006

11 Pages, Grade: 12

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Very few disagree that Mark Twain is one of most famous American writers if not best. However, many people mainly know Twain through his Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. Also some believe Twain is one of the greatest only because of these two books (Scott 43). In the two, Mark Twain portrays the setting in which he himself grew up. In Missouri and adjoining states along the Mississippi River, Tom and Huck each resemble Twain’s characteristics: observative, imaginative, and humorous.

Unlike his many other works such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which Twain published in 1889, takes seemingly irrelevant setting. Because its superficial irrelevancy to Twain’s environment and the laugh it causes, some criticize or dismiss it as a mere children’s story that uses Le Morte d’Arthur. However, considering Twain actually lived twice as long in New England as he did in Hannibal, Missouri, it does not seem illogical he picked a character who is from Connecticut (Dempsey 1). Furthermore, A Connecticut Yankee is one of Twain’s best novels that represent Twain’s life and philosophy when carefully read.

The novel uses Hank Morgan, the protagonist, to show the Twain’s love of technology and following failure. As Twain, Hank falls in love with the convenience and efficiency of technology but experiences down downfall of technology. Twain expresses his opposition towards slavery through Hank and King Arthur especially when they themselves were captive slaves. Churches and knights appear to describe the impracticality of the world.

From the first chapters where Hank Morgan circumvents his execution by his use of contemporary knowledge to the end where his own empire that he has built with his technology crumbles, the importance and emphasis on technology unremittingly appears through out the novel. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, possibly Mark Twain’s last masterpiece, well resembles the life of Twain especially with the theme of technology. The novel is divided into three big parts in terms of the role of technology: Hank’s beginning of using technology as trivial tricks, serious use for his construction of his political activities, and the decline of his fame through the war. These stages parallel those of Mark Twain’s life span. Similar to Hank, Twain met the advantages of technology as he started working as print devil, fell in love with it, and experienced failure. Mark Twain uses this prevalent theme in the novel effectively expresses American capitalism, his love and the danger of technology (Kaplan, 4).

Both Mark Twain and Hank Morgan started using technology merely in order to extend their lives; but it brought them satisfaction and enticement. Mark Twain encountered writing because of economical difficulty. His father, John Marshall Clemens, was unsuccessful lawyer and died when Twain was eleven (Kaplan, 2). To make money to support the family, he worked as a print devil for many newspaper companies, including The Journal, of his brother, Orion Clemens (Miller,1). Along with working at Orion’s The Journal, his working as a print devil did not save Twain and his family from poverty, as he only received $3.50 a week while he worked for Orion (Kaplan, 41). However, especially under Orion, he frequently printed his own story and writings without notifying the employers, and he found his affinity for writing and working with printers (Kaplan, 43). Likewise, Hank Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee comes to use his advanced knowledge of nineteenth century involuntarily. In the beginning of the book, Hank Morgan, who is only known as the Yankee until almost the last chapters, enters without an idea where he is and why he is looked with doubtful, bewildered eyes of others (Twain ch.1). He is, he soon finds out, a prisoner of Sir Kay, and is about to be executed (Twain ch.1). He gathers his scientific knowledge from his time and scares and avoid the execution by foretelling the mysterious incident of the solar eclipse (Twain ch.2). Looking at the people including the magician Merlin mesmerized, Hank finds enjoyment and advantages of the technology that he possesses.

Following their similar way of meeting with technology, Twain and Hank both embrace and apply into more serious vocation. Twain gained more experience with technology after his work under myriad of publishers such as “Missouri Courier” and “Philadelphia Inquirer,” and his experience with steamboats when he was in his early twenties (Kaplan 48, 62). He fell in love with technology that allowed convenience. As a result, he was put more effort and time advertising and supporting technology. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876, was the first novel in America to be written on a typewriter (Beard, 1). He also connected one of the first telephones in his house hold in Hartford, Connecticut (Beard, 2). These episodes clearly exemplify Twain’s obsession with technological development and willingness to apply such advantages to his work.

Hank Morgan, showing a similar attraction to technology as Twain, fully plans and starts to build his own army and corporation that deeply affect King Arthur and the country. Using the knowledge of nineteenth century, Hank “invents” bicycles and telephones (Twain Ch.22). While the story proceeds, Hank demonstrates his more profound usage of technology as did Mark Twain. Unsurprisingly they come to an end where they face the end of their failure with once-beneficial technology.

Mark Twain concludes A Connecticut Yankee with breakdown of Hank’s power, influence, and self. All he has established ever since his arrival – tangible corporation and strong influence – collapse in the war of knights and Mordred. The country without knighthood and other conservative customs, a thing that Hank has achieved with exercise of technology, is ruined in an instant and the all of his effort is blown away. Just as did his civilization is injured, so Hank gets wounded by a soldier, and he is made to sleep for thirteen centuries by a spell cast by disguised Merlin.

Mark Twain’s economical disaster came from the technology. He had met James Paige and heard his business plan. Already experienced and supportive of typesetter, he willingly invested prodigious amount of money, and by 1887 he had invested $50,000. Paige requested more money and time that, he claimed, would make the typesetter more efficient and less expensive. However, unlike the dream of either Paige or Twain, the Linotype Machine – the rival of Paige Typesetter - swept the market, and Paige and Twain were therefore bankrupted (Beard2). The year A Connecticut Yankee was published corresponds the period that Twain struggled economically because of the Paige Typesetter, and the decline strongly influenced Twain’s novel to end with Hank’s failure.

Mark Twain frequently showed antagonism towards slavery throughout his major works such as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In A Connecticut Yankee, he displays the animosity as well. Using his characters of the novel, he demonstrates the badness and injustice of slavery. However, while he uses Hank Morgan, the protagonist of the novel, drawing similarity of their relationships with technology, he chooses King Arthur to reveal his view of slavery. Both King Arthur in the novel and Twain himself were not clearly aware of the cruelty of slavery, but later they are doubtlessly anti-slavery. They are slightly different since Mark Twain, grown up with slaves, had gradually grown intimacy towards African Americans and slaves while Arthur comes to realization at one certain event. Still, they share their opposition to slavery and their willingness to use their power of occupations to discourage the slavery.

Although the social statuses of Twain and Arthur are clearly different, and they lived in largely different time period, they were comparatively unaware of the seriousness of slavery. Mark Twain, born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, was the third of four surviving children of John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens (Kaplan, 1). John Clemens was a lawyer, but was not economically successful (Kaplan, 6). Still, he owned a couple slaves as did many households in Missouri (Kaplan, 9). Mark Twain grew up with black slaves, and slavery was not unusual for him. Although he became more conscious of the cruelty of it as he became little older, the surrounding environment in Missouri as a slave state made it difficult for him to understand the meaning of the issue. Even the newspapers supported slavery by providing advertisement, and were full of racial jokes (int1). Furthermore Twain himself said “he was not aware of badness of slavery,” in his autobiography (Kaplan, 20).

King Arthur has completely different people around him and different social status. He has everything he desires and knights joust to entertain him. It is hard for any kings to see the reality of lives of people with lower rank. Arthur is not an exception and is ignorant at least about how the slaves are treated. After setting up a king without awareness of the extremity of slavery, Mark Twain provides an incidence from which King Arthur could learn a lesson.

Like he did when showing a misinformed King, Mark Twain, again, provides different way to enlighten him from the way he himself was. Although Twain grew up with slaves around and was unaware of depravity of slavery when he was young, he always had liked the speeches of blacks which were exotically strange (Kaplan, 23). Also, the blacks’ combination of Christianity and superstition was enticing (Kaplan, 23). However, living in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain frequently observed slaves abused by their masters, and it made him sympathetic for the slaves and antagonistic to the slavery. Especially the day when he saw a man beating up and eventually killing a slave for trivial mistake dramatically struck him (Kaplan, 22). He cherished his boyhood and his life in Missouri so that he would write his two most popular novels – the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – that are setting in Missouri and nearby states. However, he admitted that his ideologies did not identify with the South (Kaplan, 354). Twain even fled Missouri to avoid serving for South in Civil War, although he ended up fighting for the South (Kaplan, 354). As he grew older, Twain gradually realized and became more hostile to the flagrant slavery.

In a different form, Arthur in A Connecticut Yankee goes through the same stage. It is when he decides to follow Hank planning to travel through the countryside to see how peasants live (Twain ch.27). Not able to successfully conceal his royalty and upsetting crowds, Arthur causes troubles, was caught with Hank by the crowds, and they were sold as slaves. They were dramatically rescued by Sir Lancelot right before they were about to be killed, and Arthur comprehends the horribleness of slavery and is determined to abolish slavery (Twain ch.38). Like Twain himself did, King Arthur comes to point where he become opposed to slavery. Twain, for the last, draws parallel between them by describing how Arthur puts efforts in his work to accomplish what he desires – abolition of slavery.

Writing explicitly against slavery in his major novels, Twain tries to express his ideals in his work, and so does King Arthur. Although it is with vast amount contribution of Hank, King Arthur eliminates slavery and accomplishes his dream after the horrible yet invaluable experience as a slave – but it does not last forever. This demonstrates how Twain’s characteristic that he always uses what he has to expand and deliver to others.

Through out the novel, Arthur resembles Twain, becoming to be conscious and working to accomplish what he believes in. Twain uses an old character which symbolizes courage and greatness in original novel and develops him into a character who carries image of him as well. He show different parts of him in Hank with technology and Arthur with slavery; however, he now satirically criticize Aristocracy and churches in sixth century by showing their impracticality in the view of Hank.

Not only through individual characters, but also through the novel as a whole, Mark Twain demonstrates what he believes in. In Hank’s perspective, Twain cajoles the political system of sixth century when aristocracy prevailed, The Church intervened the politics, and people were blinded by the name of chivalry. Twain conspicuously divulges the inexpediency and gullibility of the monks and knights In Twain’s eye. The church, the aristocracy and the chivalry that people in sixth century adored in sixth century are full of pompous yet unpractical people and system. And those are experienced and observed by Hank Morgan.

Throughout the novel, Hank sees people mesmerized by Hank’s technology and tricks. They simply believe what they see and idolize him. Of course they have not seen technology of nineteenth century such as the telephone and bicycle, and they are perfectly justified to be amazed and scared by objects that they have never seen. However, they do not question Hank when he simply pretends to provoke sun to disappear and a tower to explode (Twain ch.1 &7). Having seen Merlin’s magic for their lives, they do not doubt and believe anything could happen. The monks of churches rely on Merlin’s enchantment when fixing their “holy fountain,’ which they use to wash themselves, and praise Hank when he fixes it with simple technology (Twain ch.22). The knights, also, are scared when they see Hank with a burst of smoke from his pipe (Twain ch.14). They run away even though they outnumber Hank and show their gullibility. Such naivety is shown in other novels of Twain especially in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Despite all this gullibility, the people of sixth century want to look good and courageous to others. Their superficial pompousness is a target of Twain to criticize as well. Their inclination to look great to others makes them unpractical. Merlin unremittingly challenges Hank without admitting his lost or contemplation what he needs to do to help the nation. He is solely concerned with avenging Hank, and that produces nothing but fruitless contention. On the other side, the knights continues to wear heavy clothes and armor in order to show their high ranks and pride, but they sweat all day and cannot even scratch themselves.

Mark Twain mocks all these impracticality and immorality which he personally detests using this novel (Dempsey, 1). Just as he loved technology that brings effectiveness and abhorred slavery, so he implants his core ideas of his life in the novel. In 1866, he was sent to Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, to write series of letters, and he researched the politics of the islands (Kaplan, 141). The islands still had similar aristocracy of old Europe and the churches constantly intervene with politic (SMT 145). He disliked such old practices with very small effectiveness. The experience in Sandwich Islands helped him to rebuild the sixth century in A Connecticut Yankee and to demonstrate his ideas.

Caricaturing the masterpiece Le Morte d’Arthur, Mark Twain not only shows his humor, but also courage to make fun of great King Arthur and other characters in order to claim his ideologies. From describing technology to slavery and chivalry, Twain apply his fortes – exaggeration, surprise and irreverence throughout the novel (Scott 88). It is known that Twain, despite his economic failure in his later years, did not declare bankruptcy (Anonymous 1). It was to keep his dignity and integrity, just like he used famous Le Morte d’Arthur, to spread his philosophy risking his reputation. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court sincerely contains Mark Twain’s heart and trial to reflect himself in the novel. It does not represent Twain less than Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, and it is Mark Twain, himself.

11 of 11 pages


Mark Twain and His Connecticut Yankee
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Mark, Twain, Connecticut, Yankee, English
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Juyoung Lee (Author), 2006, Mark Twain and His Connecticut Yankee, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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