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

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Chapters 1–2 | Summary



Chapter 1: Camelot

Hank Morgan, the Yankee, is the narrator now. He does not recognize the name "Camelot," and instead focuses on what he observes around him. He is impressed by the countryside and not impressed by the people. Some of them are dirty and smelly and live in "wretched" homes. Others are elaborately dressed and very proud of themselves. All of them stare at Hank as if they've never seen anything like him.

Chapter 2: King Arthur's Court

Hank Morgan continues to believe he is in an asylum or mental institution of some type. He ends up in conversation with a cheerful and curious boy he names Clarence. Clarence explains it is the year 528 and Hank is in King Arthur's Court. Hank can't accept it, but he remembers a total eclipse of the sun occurred in the year 528, only a few days from the present date. He decides to wait for the eclipse as proof. He decides he will be the boss of either situation: either boss of the asylum or boss of the entire country. Hank will rely on knowledge, "for I judged I would have the start of the best-educated man in the kingdom by a matter of thirteen hundred years."

From Clarence, Hank learns Sir Kay has captured him and will throw him into the dungeons "until my friends ransomed me—unless I chanced to rot, first." Hank will be shown off as a prize at a banquet along with other prisoners. He observes the banquet. Whereas he finds the Table Round and the knights visually impressive, he is struck by a "childlike and innocent" quality in the people. They are naïve and cruel, and their treatment of prisoners, by Hank's standards, is positively heartless.


In the Preface, Hank Morgan called himself a Yankee, "nearly barren of sentiment ... or poetry," which may explain why Hank does not recognize the name Camelot. Hank is a very intelligent man, as will be demonstrated later, but he lacks the classical education that 19th-century European or upper-class Americans would receive. At the same time, Hank's education has somehow familiarized him with the dates of ancient eclipses. Twain may be counting on the reader's "willing suspension of disbelief," as the poet Coleridge described in the early 19th century.

Twain vividly describes realities of life in the Middle Ages, which stand in strong contrast to life as described in the courtly romances. Twain obliges with those elegant details: plumed hats, drinking from ox horns, eloquent language. He also makes sure to describe the misery of the prisoners, the naïve cruelty of the knights, dogs fighting over bones, and smells from the unwashed people around him.

This more realistic style creates a contrast between Twain's American realism and the European epics from which Arthurian epics originated. He also sets up an immediate contrast between Hank's American ambition and the British characters' acceptance of the status quo. Hank acknowledges he has an advantage over these people: 1,300 years of scientific advances and better education. Twain also has this advantage, writing in a time when societal and educational standards were very different. Twain's audience is likely to sympathize with his standards, as they were the prevailing ideas of the late 19th century. Some readers may wonder, though, if there isn't something inherently unfair about applying 19th-century ideas to the 6th century. Hank can't help it—he is a product of his time. Twain does it deliberately to make a point: European countries are tied up in tradition and history and can't make progress, he believes, the way America can.

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