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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Mark Twain

Questions for Study

Chapter 44 and Postscript

How to Cite This SparkNote

What elements of the Yankee's character make him so peculiarly suited to the task of modernizing Arthurian Britain?

The Yankee is extremely practical and business-minded with a determination to succeed coupled with the unwavering confidence that he is the best man for his chosen task. He is skilled in various industrial disciplines and has experience as a leader, as well as being an excellent showman. He is also possessed of physical and moral fortitude and is willing to fight for what he believes in.

What flaws appear in the Yankee's character?

The Yankee's main flaws are pride and an excessive fondness for elaborate, aesthetically pleasing "effects," sometimes at the expense of the safety of himself and those around him.

Examine the Yankee's view of the Catholic Church and freedom of religion.

The Yankee blames the unified Church for many of the problems in medieval society and claims that its teachings are the source of the strict social stratification in the monarchical system of government. While he admits it has some good effects on society, he feels that these few positive impacts could be better accomplished by a variety of Christian sects, which would not have the political power and potential for corruption found in the Catholic Church.

What does the Yankee regard as the true source of political power, and what form of government does he consider ideal?

True to his democratic upbringing, the Yankee believes the people are the ultimate source of governmental authority. He regards the monarchy and the aristocracy as an abomination of the social contract, in which the majority of the people have been conditioned to believe they have no right to govern themselves. His goal is to establish a republic, as that is the form of government he considers most fair and natural.

Why does Twain include excerpts from Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, and what is the significance of the characters' reactions to them?

Twain's inclusion of excerpts from Malory, whose version of the Arthur legend is generally considered definitive, establishes his unconventional reworking of the Arthur material on a firm traditional foundation. It pays homage to Twain's illustrious predecessors in this venue without stifling Twain's creativity and vision. The characters' reactions to Malory's style vary: the narrator of the frame story admires it, Arthur's court finds it terribly dull after many repetitions, and the Yankee alternates between considering it charming and quaintly straightforward and calling it vague and unexciting. These reactions can reasonably be taken to reflect Twain's own in his decision to use the Arthur legend as a framework for his story, giving it new life and enlivening it with a new perspective and his own distinctive style.

Discuss Clarence's development under the Yankee's influence.

Clarence starts as an ignorant sixth-century youth with a slight inclination to being a scornful onlooker and gradually takes on nineteenth-century characteristics and language patterns, which first appear in his writing. His character undergoes a sort of doubling for a while, in which he belongs partly to the sixth century and partly to the nineteenth. At the end of the book, he has become entirely a creature of the nineteenth century and no longer fits in medieval society.

Discuss the Yankee's portrayal as an outsider.

The Yankee never belongs to the time period of the book, neither in the modern-day frame story or in the sixth-century manuscript. He gradually becomes acclimated to the sixth century after he finds himself there, and his language slowly tempers itself to fit in more, but his beliefs always clash with prevailing sixth-century ideologies. In the frame story, the narrator describes his smile as belonging to an ancient time, and his speech is full of archaic phrases. Whereas he once described Sir Kay's armor in nineteenth-century terms, he now shows an amazing familiarity with it. He has apparently undergone the reverse of Clarence's process and now belongs fully to the sixth century. He no longer dreams of his nineteenth-century love but instead cries out for Sandy. When he first arrived in the sixth century, he often woke up thinking that he had been dreaming and he was still safely in the nineteenth. He dies dreaming that the nineteenth century was merely a dream and that he is safely in the sixth.

What is the significance of the book's ending?

The horrendous massacre at the end of the book, in which technology conquers an entire nation and then (indirectly) destroys even the people who used it, presents a somewhat negative picture of the powers of technology and progress. The Yankee envisioned a bloodless revolution brought about by science and technology, but, in the end, his followers die of the carnage they have wrought, and the Yankee is defeated by the magic he thought was all a sham. Merlin's victory perhaps symbolizes man's ultimate need to find shelter in illusion and belief in the supernatural; significantly, his display of primitive glee leads to his own death. In the end, the Yankee seems to have lost the greater part of his moral supremacy over the aristocracy. He may be fighting for freedom and in self-defense, but he lacks the support of the people he is trying to free, and his methods are hardly unimpeachable.

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