Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Study Guide

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was the last of Twain's novels written during the apex of his career. As a work it shows his more mature writing, hinting at some of the cynical and dark themes that he would obsess over in his final years?he thought it would be his last book, but he went on to write many more stories and novelettes. Twain had developed an interest in the Arthurian canon after a friend gave him an edition of the medieval Morte D'Arthure of Thomas Malory around 1884.

While widely recognized as a satire, Twain himself wrote that "the story isn't a satire peculiarly, it is more especially a contrast." After all, what would it satirize?a bygone legendary era whose characters may have never existed? Twain writes in the preface, "The ungentle laws and customes touched upon in this tale are historical"? but they are not necessary of the 6th century or even necessarily about England. Instead, the scenes of pathos and injustice become generalized as contradictions and faults of human behavior throughout the ages is contrasted against the modern man's view of himself and his enlightened age. For example, the slavery scenes of the book most likely never existed in Britain at all, but they are true to life descriptions of Russian serfdom as well as American slavery in the South.

Of the protagonist, Hank the Yankee, Twain writes that he is modern, knowledgeable but is nonetheless "an ignoramus." His voice is not necessarily Twain's, and Twain uses his self-assured, strong willed American to criticize modern society's penchant for destructive progress. Twain at the time of the book already growing more cynical of man's capacity to act sensibly, injects A Connecticut Yankee with a dark prophecy of the political faults he saw in his own time. As the Yankee grows in power and conviction that his way is the best way, he becomes more totalitarian, more violent and less in control of his circumstances until the only way out is a war of mass destruction.

However, like Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee was not popular or remembered for its darker undercurrents, but for its brilliant and glistening imagination, witty invention and forthright American storytelling. Full of the contradictions of right and wrong that certainly plagued Twain in his later years, the novel of "contrasts" enjoys the love of children more than of the adults it often criticized.