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Study Guide: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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FREE NOTES: A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT

CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

“A WORD OF EXPLANATION”

Summary

On a visit to the Warwick castle, the narrator (Mark Twain) meets a stranger who talks to him about his encounter with medieval characters like Sir Launcelot, Sir Galahad, and the members of the Round Table. This stranger also talks about transmigration of souls and transposition of epochs. However, before the narrator can ask him any questions about his strange claims, the stranger disappears. Back in his room, Twain reads about the adventures of Sir Lancelot in Le Morte d’ Arthur. As he finishes, the stranger appears at his door for a visit.

The stranger calls himself an American Yankee from Hartford, Connecticut. He tells the narrator about his many jobs, including blacksmithing (learned from his father), horse doctoring (learned from an uncle), and mechanical skills (learned from a factory job.) This information leads him to tell his life story to the narrator. Because of his ability to invent mechanical objects, he had been promoted to the level of Supervisor in his position. One day, after a fight with an employee, he was knocked unconscious. He awoke to find himself sitting in the grass under an oak tree. An armored man on a horse stopped, and the Yankee asked him if he was from a circus. The two quarreled and the Yankee ended up climbing a tree to escape the knight’s lance. After a time, he agreed to come down and ride with the knight toward town.


In the midst of telling this, the Yankee becomes very sleepy. He offers the narrator a written record of his experiences then leaves. The narrator looks at the manuscript, which is yellowed with age and cluttered with words and phrases, some in Latin and he settles in to read.

Notes

The choice of narrator is in this case used to frame the novel. It is a strategy often used by authors who want to introduce or commentate on the events before they are recounted, and perhaps interpret the events after they are told. Except for the first and last “chapters”, however, the rest of the story takes place in the 6th century time of King Arthur and has very little authorial intrusion or commentary. This narrator identifies himself as Mark Twain, the author, which makes the story at once more personable and more entertaining. Though the reader will not necessarily believe Mark Twain as the story unfolds, often the use of author as narrator lends a certain “true-to-life” quality to the story. In some narratives of this type, the principal character is spoken of but never seen. That is, the narrator tells a story about a man he heard of or once knew. Twain, however, chooses to present the character and even have him speak. The Yankee, Hank Morgan, is a character in both the frame and the body of the story.

An aura of mystery and suspense is created in this introductory chapter. As the narrator goes around the Warwick castle, he notices a hole in an ancient piece of an armor. The stranger, Hank Morgan, recognizes the hole and claims he made it when fighting that particular knight. The curiosity of Twain as well as the reader is aroused and the groundwork for the entire story is laid.

The appearance of the stranger at Twain’s door is not unexpected, since the expectation has already been set up that he has quite a story to tell. What is unique about the situation is the fact that he arrives and begins his story, only to become sleepy and leave a manuscript of his tale with the stranger (Mark Twain).

This is the second historical novel written by Twain, the first being The Prince and the Pauper. The first novel was set in the sixteenth century of Henry VIII and Edward Tudor, while A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is set in the sixth-century England of King Arthur. In both novels, Twain juxtaposes the present against the past to compare and contrast the time periods and deliver some social commentary. What is interesting in the end is that Twain’s social commentary on the bygone era as a time of social inequality and political injustice does little to detract his hero, Hank Morgan, from longing to return to that time. The seeming contradiction of authorial voice and character perspective has often been regarded as the central flaw in this novel.

In terms of characterization, the creation of Hank Morgan is especially fitting in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Since Morgan had worked as a gunsmith, a mechanic, an inventor, and a brawler, he has skills and knowledge that will make him extraordinary in the time of Camelot. Indeed, he will appear to have the powers of a magician, as he claims.


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