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

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

CHAPTER 1: “CAMELOT”

Summary

As the stranger accompanies the knight on his mysterious journey, he looks puzzled. The natural landscape of the place is unspoiled and inhabited by fragrant flowers, chirping birds, and buzzing insects. A young girl with poppies in her hair walks by and stares at Hank Morgan.

Hank Morgan knows they are approaching Camelot, but thinks it is an asylum where the insane man in the armor lives, rather than the actual legendary place. When they arrive, the town is buzzing with activity. The people stare at Morgan and exchange curious glances. The knight leads Morgan through crooked alleys with naked children and stray animals in sight, and the sound of military music reaches them. A group of colorfully dressed noblemen rides down the street and Morgan and the Knight follow them toward a huge castle. As soldiers open the gates, a paved courtyard surrounded by magnificent Arthurian structures is revealed.

Notes

Twain begins his depiction of 6th century England with images of unspoiled nature and undeveloped civilization. The Yankee from the nineteenth century is dazed by the scenery all around. The countryside consists of natural landscapes undisturbed by the noise and turbulence of industrialization. He meets a charming young girl who looks ethereal, nearly merging with the surroundings. She stares at him, much to his puzzlement. Later, the inhabitants of the city also look at him with wonder. Morgan fails to understand that his refined looks and fashionable clothes are a strange sight to the people of this ancient land. He has not yet figured out that he is in another time and place. Being a hard core realist of the modern age, he is virtually oblivious to the sudden existence of the romantic city of Camelot.

Mark Twain recreates the favorable essence of the age through his descriptive powers. The unspoiled beauty of the countryside is evoked through a colorful presentation of flora and fauna. In contrast, however, the town looks congested and dirty. Unrefined men and uncared for animals move around noisily. Their shabby appearance is contrasted with that of the Knights in shining armor who look “glorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners and rich doublets and horse cloths and gilded spearheads.” The repetition of ‘and’ magnifies the image of the Knights, making the list of their favorable attributes appear to go on and on. In these observations, Twain is laying the groundwork for his later passages of social commentary and criticism.



CHAPTER 2: “KING ARTHUR’S COURT”

Summary

Hank Morgan assumes that this magnificent place is an institute for insane people, since they are all so oddly dressed and since they stare at him open-mouthed and puzzled. When he encounters a man who looks sane, he makes inquiries about the head keeper of the asylum. The man looks puzzled and directs him to a boy. This boy, calling himself a page, informs Morgan that are all heading toward King Arthur’s court, in Camelot. Further, he tells Morgan the day is June 19, in the year 528 A.D. Morgan is startled but remembers from his own store of knowledge that a solar eclipse will happen in a couple of day, so he will wait for that as confirmation.

The boy tells Morgan that his master is named Sir Kay and that he will punish Morgan for his insubordination. They enter the main chamber where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are seated in conversation. For diversion, the knights throw bones at dogs and enjoy watching the animals fight over them. There are other prisoners in the room awaiting trial and punishment.

Notes

Mark Twain’s irony sparkles when he reveals the attitude of the medieval men in contrast to that of nineteenth century Morgan. The inhabitants of Camelot are simple people who are astonished to spot an apparently refined man in their midst. Hank Morgan, for his part, thinks he is surrounded by insane people. Being a product of the Age of Reason and Practicality, he questions the truth of what the boy says and uses his own extensive knowledge to confirm reality. The fact that he remembers the historical occurrence of an eclipse is too incredibly convenient, but is presented as acceptable fact in the context of the story.

Hank’s personality begins to show through in this scene as he decides to make the best out of a bad situation. He has the patience to see beyond the moment to a couple of days ahead when the eclipse is to happen. It is this perseverance and pluck that helps him become The Boss of Camelot in a matter of three months. He feels confident in his superior intelligence and education. His cunning is in striking contrast to the simplicity of the residents of Camelot.

Mark Twain also provides some ironic commentary on the Knights of King Arthur’s Court. They are crude and rough. They derive sadistic pleasure by throwing bones at dogs and watching the animals fight. Twain takes great care to present them as “gracious and courtly” and “good and serious listeners,” saying they are a “childlike and innocent lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naiveté, and ready and willing to listen to anybody else’s lie, and believe it, too.” He compares them faintly to modern statesmen who tell lies convincingly; however, unlike the statesmen, the knights are unaware of cunning and diplomacy.


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