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 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: Merlin's Tower

Hank Morgan is given luxurious clothes and rooms in which to live, but he misses his old life. The clothes are fancy, but uncomfortable. The rooms are elegantly furnished, but he doesn't have soap, matches, a mirror, or a chromo (chromolithograph, a printed color picture popular in the 19th century). Hank is also shocked to discover how few people can read or write. He compares himself to Robinson Crusoe "cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals." He is so famous he has to show himself in public multiple times a day, which makes Merlin angry. Merlin spreads rumors that Hank is no true magician because he has not performed any other miracles. Hank responds by promising to "blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven." He takes Clarence into his confidence and they work together to make blasting powder, wires, and a lightning-rod. They plant the blasting powder inside the tower. Hank waits for a stormy night so lightning will hit the tower. Hank gives Merlin a chance to protect the tower with his own magic, but Merlin fails and the tower blows up. King Arthur wants to fire Merlin, but Hank says he can stay around and do small, unimportant tasks. Merlin never forgives Hank for humiliating him.

Chapter 8: The Boss

Hank Morgan is getting accustomed to life in Arthurian England. He recognizes he is basically a genius in this time, while in his own time he was only an average sort of man. He is now known as "The Boss"—his own special title. Hank describes King Arthur's kingdom as largely made up slaves: literal slaves in chains and figurative slaves, "freemen" who are so oppressed they cannot truly be free. They must "grovel before king and Church and noble" and suffer so these "noble" people can have everything they desire. Hank acknowledges that for all his power, he is still considered lowlier than nobles because he has no title other than "The Boss." Hank also complains about the Catholic Church, which "converted a nation of men to a nation of worms" and supported the divine right of kings. The Church encourages the common man to suffer and grovel as a way to earn his place in heaven.

Analysis

Twain carefully keeps Hank Morgan grounded in "American" virtues and values—that is, qualities Twain found admirable in Americans and less often found in other cultures. Notice even his title is American: The Boss. Hank admits the clothes and furnishings of his new life are "showy," made "of silks and velvets and cloth of gold." But he finds them uncomfortable and longs for simple things (by 19th-century standards), like a mirror and matches. This is plausible—many modern readers would find themselves greatly inconvenienced by life in a previous century. It also allows Twain to keep Hank relatable. He may be one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, but he is a realist. He knows he has a head start because of education and scientific knowledge unknown to the 6th century, and he doesn't want to waste it. In blowing up Merlin's tower, Twain again demonstrates how Hank's "magic" works.

Hank compares himself to Robinson Crusoe, the hero of a novel by that name, which was published over 100 years before Twain's writing. Robinson Crusoe is shipwrecked on an island where, with nothing more than his own inventiveness and a few tools, he creates a life for himself. This "survival on an island" story remained hugely popular in Twain's time. Jules Verne used the same concept for The Mysterious Island (1874), which was published about 15 years before A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Hank's comparison to Robinson Crusoe is striking. In Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist makes a good life for himself, but feels lonely until he finds a companion—a native man he names "Friday." Likewise, Hank is lonely, but he tries to find a companion in Clarence, who he begins to teach some of his "magic" secrets.

Two topics arise in these chapters which Twain will repeatedly revisit throughout the novel: criticism of the Catholic Church and slavery. In this chapter Hank focuses on the economic "slavery" of the so-called freemen, while in later chapters he will address slavery itself. Since the colonial period, Americans have disparaged the lack of upward mobility, or the inability of people to improve their financial or social standing, in European countries. Some people cited such criticisms as another reason Americans should declare independence. Over 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Twain was still making the same objection.

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