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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 21–22 | Summary



Chapter 21: The Pilgrims

Hank Morgan and Sandy leave the princesses at the castle and continue to travel. They join a group of pilgrims traveling to the Valley of Holiness to drink from its miraculous waters. The pilgrims are devoutly religious, but they accept the injustices of their time. When they pass by a group of slaves, they are not at all troubled by seeing the slave master whip a young woman severely. Hank watches as the young woman is sold away from her husband, her young child in her arms, but the pilgrims say nothing.

They stay at an inn overnight. The next morning Hank meets up with another of his advertising knights, who brings word from the Valley of Holiness: the water has stopped flowing. The monks sent for The Boss, who was not in Camelot. Instead, Merlin came, but he has done no good. Hank uses his knight to send a message to Camelot, asking for certain supplies and two trained assistants.

Chapter 22: The Holy Fountain

The pilgrims still want to see the Valley of Holiness, even though the water isn't flowing. Hank Morgan is also eager to get there. He wants to figure out how to solve the problem, adding to his own reputation, and to make Merlin look foolish (again). The abbot is overjoyed to see Hank, but Hank insists Merlin must be allowed time to work. This is mostly to give Hank's assistants time to travel from Camelot with their supplies. When Hank is able to examine the miraculous fountain, he finds it is a well which has sprung a leak. He can fix it easily, but he gives Merlin more time to fail. Merlin, Hank says, is "an old numskull, a magician who believed in his own magic," so he is guaranteed to fail in such a situation.


Twain is famously uneasy with organized religion in general and with Catholicism in particular. He had been raised as a Protestant, and like many Protestants of his time, he thought Catholicism was controlling and dangerous to its adherents. Much of this recalls echoes of the Protestant Reformation, in which various Christian sects broke away from the dominant (at that time) Catholic Church. However, Twain also had a healthy skepticism about any form of religion. He was disinclined to allow other people to do his thinking for him, as many priests and preachers suggested their "flock" do. He had seen plenty of evidence of the hypocrisy of religious people. In this chapter he uses the pilgrims traveling to the Valley of Holiness as Exhibit A in his testimony against the Church. Although the pilgrims are ostensibly holy and religious individuals, they are utterly untroubled by slavery and the heartless abuse of slaves taking place right before them.

Twain grew up around slavery. He once described seeing, during his childhood, slaves chained together to be sent to a slave auction. The grief on the slaves' faces made a lifelong impression on him. Twain had published magazine pieces against slavery. He also supported efforts like Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, an early effort to provide education to African-Americans after the American Civil War. The Civil War (1861–65) was a four-year conflict between the United States and 11 Southern states that seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. One of the cruelest parts of slavery was the forcible separation of families, as Hank Morgan describes in this chapter. In the 1870s, Twain published a piece which was essentially the dictated memoir of a former slave. In it she described having her family taken away from her. She may have been in Twain's thoughts as he wrote this scene.

Although Twain wants to make his point about slavery, he is careful not to lose the thread of entertaining his audience. The agony of the slaves is quickly supplanted by Hank's gleeful anticipation of humiliating Merlin. Hank puts plans in motion before he even knows what the problem is: he is confident he can fix it. Twain celebrates "can do" attitude, which is quintessentially American in his mind.

Merlin has never really injured Hank in any serious way. Nevertheless, Hank wants to ruin Merlin professionally. In Chapter 22, Twain offers a particular insight into why Merlin is so despised: he believes his own magic. Ever the skeptic, Twain appreciates people who are equally skeptical. A "true believer," like Merlin, is a prime target for humiliation.

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