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

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Around mid-afternoon, they arrive at a deserted hut. The occupant is a woman stricken with smallpox who warns them to go away. She blames her pitiable state on the church and the royalty, unaware that one of her visitors is the King. Morgan, concerned for the King’s health, tries to persuade him to leave. But the King insists on staying to help the woman and hear her story of misery.

She proceeds to tell them how she had once lived a life of comfort. Then the callous lords and priests arrested her sons for no reason and her family was left to die. The King feels sorry for her. He and Morgan bring her ailing daughters to her side. The woman holds both her daughters in her arms till they breathe their last.


Mark Twain juxtaposes humor with pathos by alternating scenes of mirth and misery in the chapters. In the last chapter, the scene of King Arthur trying to enact the role of a peasant provoked laughter, in this chapter the scene of the dying woman evokes tears. The poor woman is undergoing tremendous discomfort without any family or visitors. The church has banned the villagers from entering her house since the woman had talked blasphemously against the priests who had driven her innocent sons to the jail. Even her property has been confiscated. Her husband is dead and her daughters are dying. The dying woman hugs her two daughters before they breathe their last. Her story of suffering moves the King to tears.

Twains’ antipathy for the church is further evident in this chapter, wherein he exposes the authoritarian church that exploits the peasants and punishes them for raising their voice against injustice. The priests and the lords enjoy the profits, while the poor farmers till the land with the sweat of their brow.

The chapter also brings to notice the other side of King Arthur’s personality. In the first half of the novel, the King is shown as the administrator of the state, the dispenser of justice and a chivalrous knight besides. This chapter shows him as a gentle human being and a caring master. Unmindful of catching the infection of the dying woman, he tries to bring solace to her grieving heart by giving her moral support. In this respect, he is unlike King Henry VIII of The Prince and the Pauper, who is insensitive to the suffering of his subjects. King Arthur is a tenderhearted man who is moved to tears by the plight of the unfortunate woman.



The ailing woman dies. As the King and The Boss leave, they learn the three imprisoned sons of the dead woman have escaped from the prison. The King is outraged, expressing his desire to catch the prisoners and send them promptly back to the dungeon. The Boss is puzzled by the attitude of the King, which is in dramatic contrast to his previous sympathy and caring for their mother.

A sudden blaze in the distance diverts their attention. As they proceed, they observe a man hanging from a tree and general chaos. Reaching the house of a charcoal burner, they learn that the Manor House has been burnt and the Lord of the house is dead. The suspects are the three escaped prisoners. The charcoal burner and his wife are told to report the matter to the authorities and send a search party to catch the criminals. On hearing the words of the King, the man and his wife look disturbed. The Boss takes the man outside. As they talk, the charcoal burner reveals that the three men are his relatives, and that he is happy the Lord of the Manor is dead. Nevertheless, he must participate in the hunt or be accused and imprisoned himself. The Boss agrees to keep his secret.


Mark Twain’s distinct views on nobility and democracy are revealed in this chapter. In the beginning of the chapter, the King feels guilty for not apprehending the three escaped sons of the woman, even though he is aware of the injustice done to them by their Lord. The King is good at heart but his affinities are with the nobility and thus he feels the need to support them even though they are in the wrong. This is in keeping with his past, where he has supported guilty church members simply because they belong to the High offices of the church.

The nobility is again attacked in this chapter by Twain. All the villagers are happy that the Lord of the manor is dead because of his cruelty and injustice. The Lord is the one who falsely accused the three sons of the woman, and by sending them to the prison, he had snatched away the livelihood of a poor family. All the villagers are aware of the atrocities committed by the baron but they must pretend to sympathize with his family or face the wrath of the nobility and the church.

The chapter also reveals Twain’s views on democracy. Morgan is happy to hear the independent views of Marco, the charcoal burner, and is thus hopeful of a democratic system of government in the future. He sums up his hopes in the concluding lines of the chapter: “ A man is a man, at bottom. Whole ages of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood out of him. Whoever thinks it a mistake is himself mistaken. Yes, there is plenty good enough material for a republic in the most degraded people that ever existed.”

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