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 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13: Freemen

Hank Morgan and Sandy spend the night outdoors, sleeping separately. Hank is cold and uncomfortable because bugs get inside his armor and torment him. The next day Hank is cranky and hungry, but Sandy seems totally content. Hank attributes this to different expectations of how life should be. They come upon a group of "freemen," who are humbly honored when Hank suggests eating breakfast with them. Hank says although they were called "freemen," they had far less freedom than people in the 19th century would expect. Hank describes the ways in which the freemen have to bow down before the power of their lord. This bowing includes everything from paying taxes to something about the freeman's daughter which Hank says is "unprintable." He compares it to France "before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution." Hank asks the freemen to imagine a nation where people vote for leaders, but only one of the freemen is capable of envisioning what he means. Hank quotes the Connecticut Constitution to the reader, asserting the people's right "to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient." Yet in this time and place, such words were treasonous, and Hank knows most of the populace isn't ready for such ideas. Hank keeps his thoughts to himself, but recruits the one thoughtful man to join his secret "colony" of workers.

Chapter 14: "Defend Thee, Lord"

Hank Morgan paid generously for his and Sandy's breakfast and also for a flint and steel, which allows him to smoke his pipe. Everyone is terrified by the pipe at first, but Sandy eventually gets used to it. Later in their travels they are confronted by several knights who all charge Hank at once, but he blows smoke at them and they scatter. They are so frightened Sandy has to instruct them on how to yield to "Sir Boss" by presenting themselves to King Arthur at court. Hank says Sandy handled it better than he ever could, and he was glad to have her around.

Analysis

Twain touches on a universal idea: your expectations have a great effect on your attitude. Sandy and most of the freemen don't expect life to be any different, so they are satisfied with what they have. Hank Morgan, with his 19th-century background, knows life can and should be very different, and as a result he is often dissatisfied.

Hank describes the common folk, saying, "By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen." Sarcasm occurs when there is a gap between the literal meaning of someone's words and their intention. Twain says the law is sarcastic because it calls these people "freemen" when they are trapped by poverty, lack of education, and unjust laws. To make the freemen's situation more comprehendible to his 19th-century audience, Twain compares their lives to life in France before the "blessed" revolution. The French Revolution (1787–99) was nearly 100 years before this novel was written, so perhaps over the years it had become "blessed." Certainly earlier British and American writers would have chosen a different adjective for one of the most violent revolutions of modern times. Hank feels a similar revolution is needed in King Arthur's England, but he recognizes most of the people are not ready for it.

One common thread in time travel stories is the time traveler's struggle with the attitudes of a different era. For example, a woman or person of color from the 21st century might be very uncomfortable if they traveled back in time 100 years or more. One person cannot change the beliefs of an entire nation, Hank realizes. He must bide his time.

Many of Twain's stories feature characters who excel at thinking on their feet and getting themselves out of trouble. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn certainly come to mind. Hank is another such ingenious thinker. When he is confronted by a large number of knights, he "defeats" them by smoking his pipe. However, he needs Sandy to instruct the knights how to surrender. Hank still hasn't quite gotten used to the whole chivalry/knight thing—nor does he intend to get used to it. He wants to tear the whole system down.

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