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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 9–10 | Summary



Chapter 9: The Tournament

Hank Morgan offers some insight into his life at court. He has founded a patent office and is planning to launch a newspaper. He says they have tournaments frequently, but he has avoided participating so far. However, one day Hank unintentionally insults Sir Sagramor, and Sir Sagramor challenges him to a duel. The duel won't take place for at least three or four years, since Sir Sagramor is setting off to search for the Holy Grail. Many knights search for the grail each year, but no one ever finds it. Hank calls it "the Northwest Passage of that day." The search always takes a very long time, so Hank decides not to worry about his duel for some time to come.

Chapter 10: Beginnings of Civilization

Hank Morgan describes how he has kept busy. In isolated areas of the kingdom he has created teacher training programs and schools, not to mention a variety of Protestant religious congregations. Hank encourages many different Protestant sects because he wants to avoid a dominating power, as the Catholic Church currently is. After four years of working in secret, Hank has factories, schools, churches, a military academy or "West Point," and a naval academy. Clarence, now 22, is Hank's chief assistant and "right hand." Hank and Clarence have supervised the creation of a secret telegraph and telephone system as well. Still, most of the country appears to be just as it was before Hank's arrival. Hank says he knew he would be interrupted at some point, probably to be sent off to seek adventure before his duel with Sir Sagramor. And sure enough, that was what happened.


Hank Morgan has no particular respect for knighthood, but he is quick to size up the societal expectations of his new time. He has no choice but to accept Sir Sagramor's challenge. At least he'll have some time to prepare. Sir Sagramor, like many knights before him, is off to search for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was a chalice or cup supposedly used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper. When Jesus was crucified, the same cup was used to catch the blood which flowed out of his side. Legend says the grail eventually was brought to England.

There is a deep literary tradition around the Knights of the Round Table and their search for the grail. This tradition is so deeply ingrained in our culture that even in the later 20th century movies were being made about the search, albeit often humorous ones. Examples include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Symbolically, the grail is the unattainable, and the quest changes the person who searches for it. From a literary perspective, that is the purpose of a quest: to change the questing person. This is an important detail to remember as Hank soon sets off on his own quests.

Twain compares the Holy Grail to the Northwest Passage, a more timely reference for his readers. The Northwest Passage was a long-sought trade route to the north of Canada, over the "top" of North America, to connect Europe and Asia. Such a path was dangerous for ships because of sea ice, and men had been trying for hundreds of years to find safe passage. In Twain's day, people had traversed the Northwest Passage and lived—but very few of them made it.

Hank is secretly remaking Arthurian England into a new version of the United States. His ideas duplicate many things the American founders adopted when the United States was a new country. Education in 18th-century Europe, for example, was often only available to wealthy people. America would have free public education. European countries often had a state religion, while the American founders enshrined freedom to choose any religion in the Bill of Rights. The American founders made these choices in response to how they, their relatives, or their ancestors had lived in Europe (mostly in England). With Hank having gone all the way back to the 6th century, Twain has plenty to attack about European culture and traditions. Notice Hank's democratic spreading of knowledge: he chooses people by their ability, not by their heritage.

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