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 36–38 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 36: An Encounter in the Dark

The slaves are brought to London. Hank Morgan sees a newsboy and a telegraph wire, so he knows Clarence has continued to do work in his absence. He steals a wire and picks the lock of his chains but is interrupted before he can free the king. He tries to attack the slave trader to get his keys, but he attacks the wrong man by mistake. They are both arrested by the watch, and Hank is removed before he can free the king.

Chapter 37: An Awful Predicament

Hank Morgan spends the night in jail, but gets free in the morning by pretending to be a slave of a nobleman who sent him on an urgent errand. Hank goes back to look for the king and learns his escape was discovered. The slave trader was furious and beat the other slaves, and the slaves rose up and killed the trader. Now they are all condemned to death. However, the sentence is being delayed in the hopes that authorities can find the missing slave, Hank. In a hurry to save the king, Hank gets to the telegraph office and demands the man working it contact Clarence. Clarence agrees to send 500 knights as soon as possible. Hank figures it will take them several hours to arrive, and he plans to hide out and stall the execution. Instead, he is caught by the authorities almost immediately. He tries some complicated dodging and lying, but it doesn't work. The officer who caught him announces that since he is captured, the execution will take place right away. Hank is devastated. Knights on horseback can't possibly arrive in time.

Chapter 38: Sir Launcelot and Knights to the Rescue

The execution begins. King Arthur proclaims his true identity to the crowd, but they don't believe him. A few slaves are executed, and the king is next when the 500 knights arrive. The make it on time riding on bicycles. Backed by the knights, Hank Morgan declares Arthur's identity again, and this time people believe him. With things getting back to normal, Hank is delighted to see Clarence again. Clarence tells him the knights had been practicing with the bicycles and were "just hungry for a chance to show off."

Analysis

These three chapters demonstrate Hank Morgan's greatest strength—his inventiveness—and his greatest weakness—his desire to show off. Notably, both are traits which Twain views as particularly American. His initial plan goes wrong through no fault of his own: he gets himself free but cannot save the king. In a neat twist, Hank uses the misguided attitudes of society to get himself out of prison. He claims to be a nobleman's slave, so he is immediately treated with reverence because of his master's position. When Hank discovers the slaves are sentenced to be executed, he acts quickly. Using the telegraph—which he brought to Arthurian England—Hank calls for help from Clarence. In all of these ways, Hank's inventiveness advances the plot and helps to avert catastrophe.

However, Twain is too good a writer to make Hank a flawless hero. His desire to show off gets him into trouble. He concocts a second plan to rescue the king, and this one requires him to go shopping, which gets him caught. When he sees he might be caught, he tries a fancy dodge to escape the officers of the law—and it fails. He insolently talks back to the officer, and learns his capture has accelerated the date and time of the king's execution—and his own. All his inventiveness has been in vain. Knights on horseback can only travel at a certain pace, and Hank and the king must die.

Twain isn't willing to let tradition win over inventiveness, however. Clarence's inventiveness saves the day: he sends the knights on bicycles. Early forms of the bicycle were invented in the early 19th century; by Hank's time bicycles were becoming more popular in the United States. Most bicycles of the time were the old-fashioned kind with wheels of unequal sizes, which were tricky to ride because of the additional balancing challenges. Sir Launcelot and 500 knights arriving on bicycles is a perfectly anachronistic image for this novel's mash-up of the 6th and the 19th centuries.

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