Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28-35

Chapter 28 Drilling the King

In order to preempt further disasters, Hank drills the King on how to stoop, act humbly and get along in common society. He teaches him that they must eat as equals, that they must address the people they come across as brother and friend rather than "varlets" and "villeins." Arthur does the best he can and takes all of Hank's suggestions very thoughtfully, but Hank realizes that one who has never experienced hardship or known base physical labor cannot be properly asked to understand what it is to be a peasant. He muses that work, as we know it is unfair‹the more enjoyable and creative work is, i.e. intellectual work, the more pay one gets. Twain writes that this irony "is the very law of those transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship."

Chapter 29 The Smallpox Hut

As The Boss and The King travel together they reach a dark and still hut, and upon entering, they find a wasted and sick woman. She warns them to leave for the Church's ban is on the hut and will fall upon any man that is found near there. Hank tells her that he doesn't fear the ban and goes to fetch her a bowl of water from the neighboring spring. When he returns, King Arthur is inside the hut, and a shaft of light reveals that the woman has smallpox. Hank tries to persuade Arthur to leave, but the king refuses on his knightly honor and stays to help.

They find her dead husband, and the woman asks the King to climb to the loft and report what he finds there. He goes and comes down carrying a dying girl of fifteen, and gently lays her next to her mother. Hank is moved by the brave and majestic act of the king, braving smallpox for the sake of a peasant mother.

The child breathes her last in the mother's arms. The mother explains that her sons were accused of cutting down the local lord's fruit trees, and were duly imprisoned. When the harvest time came, the family could not provide the men needed to harvest the lord's fields, so mother and children had to work. As they struggled, their own fields were neglected and they were fined for not being able to meet the quota for church tithe and lord's dues. Starving and at their wit's end, the final blow came when the mother fell ill and brought on the Church's ban on her home. She has waited since to die.


The tragedy of the smallpox hut is the most melodramatic and pathos filled narratives Twain creates as a condemnation of the Catholic Church, feudalism and general injustice. Everything miserable that can happen falls upon this one family: wrongful imprisonment, forced labor, fines, loss of livelihood, starvation, sickness, excommunication, and finally, death. The story is almost wooden in its severity, as if Twain strings tragedy upon tragedy at random for effect; it is almost a literary club Twain uses to beat pity out of the reader.

For Hank, the episode was a turning point in his assessment of Arthur. When the King braves smallpox to give help and compassion to his dying subjects, Hank considers it "heroism at its last and loftiest possibility," and looks upon Arthur at that moment as "great, sublimely great." Arthur's person embodies the courage and compassion that every century craves, and Hank's scheme for modernity cannot substitute or replace that charisma.

Chapter 30 The Tragedy of the Manor House

King and minister watched over the house until the woman died at midnight. Covering the bodies with rags, they left the house and fastened the door. As they stepped out into the night, they heard footsteps approaching, causing them to dart for a safe hiding place. From their dark corner behind a shed they heard the woman's grown sons saying that they had escaped. Hank pulled King Arthur and they fled, not wanting to witness the pitiful scene that would follow.

They spotted a fire glowing in the distance and traveled down towards it. Along the road they spotted nine hanging bodies from the trees and heard men chasing other men through the woods. Judging the place to be unsafe for strangers, Hank and the King make steal away from the lights until they reach a charcoal burner's hut a few miles away. They take rest there until the afternoon. They are told the story of the fires and hangings from the night before: someone had set fire to the manor house and killed its owner, the local landlord. The first suspects had been a family with a grudge against the landlord, and all of these were rounded up and hanged by a peasant mob. No one had yet suspected the three escaped sons of the smallpox house.

The whole sordid story depressed Hank and assailed his dream of turning England into a republic. He learned that the charcoal burner was actually a cousin of the fugitive men involved. The humble peasant refused to report this news to the authorities, confiding to Hank that he believed the men had done a righteous deed. Hank praises his manliness and holds on to his hope of gradually establishing a democratic government after Arthur's death.


The terror of the mob hunt during the night and the hanging bodies Hank and Arthur find strewn across the landscape have a strong resemblance to lynch mobs of the modern day; in fact, much of the violence in Twain's text reaches directly into its modern legacy. The connection is further strengthened when Hank makes a direct reference to "poor Southern whites" whose economic problems are caused by slaveholders, but who nevertheless rally to their causes, fight their battles and protect their interests.

Chapter 31 Marco

The coal burner's name is Marco, and Hank goes out with him into the hamlet to observe the goings-on there. At the local provisions shop he has a twenty dollar coin broken and causes a stir with his wealth. He meets several mechanics and the rich village blacksmith, Dowley. He invites Dowley, the mason, and the village wheelwright to dinner at Marco's on Sunday.

Hank sets out and buys all of the provisions for the dinner, including new suits of clothes for Marco and his wife. He orders a list of goods from the provisioners and waits to produce his next effect. He tells Marco that King Arthur is a rather well-off farmer named Jones, and that for their kindness and hospitality, all expenses and gifts would be his treat.

Chapter 32 Dowley's Humiliation

All the goods arrive at Marco's hut Saturday afternoon, and it is all the poor couple can do to keep from fainting. Hank has outfitted them with a new table, stools, crockery‹an assortment of goods that the villagers imagined only a king could afford. Dowley arrives with his friends bragging about how he has meat twice a month, unprepared for the splendor Hank has arranged. Hank's other purpose in this project was to get a feel for the cost of living in the country and to inspect his new cash economy at work.

When the storekeeper's son comes to collect the bill, the townsmen almost fall off their stools in fear and wonder at how Hank would ever pay up. When Hank lays down four dollars and tells the boy to "keep the change," they are shocked beyond belief and Dowley is humiliated for bragging about his feasts, whose total cost is under seventy cents a year.

Chapter 33 Sixth Century Political Economy

After dinner, the men retire to talk about business and wages. King Arthur, not finding anything of interest to talk about himself, dozes off. A humorous parlay between Dowley and Hank ensues as Hank tries to convince Dowley that although his wages are higher in amount, they are lower in value compared to another region where the cost of living is much lower. The men fail to see the logic of the scheme and argue that because their wages are higher, they are simply greater and that is that.

Hank is unbearably frustrated with the men and tells them that 1300 years from hence, men will be able to set their own wages through trade unions. The men are taken aback and refuse to believe that such a lawless time will come. During their debate the subject of the pillory comes up, and Hank digresses to explain to them why he thinks the pillory ought to be abolished. During the heated discussion, he mistakenly slips out that at the wages these men are paying their apprentices, they can be legally placed in the stocks themselves. All discussion comes to a sudden halt and at this point the dinner becomes dangerous; the men are now highly suspicious of Hank and King Arthur and are waiting for a the slightest indication of betrayal before seizing them.


Twain applies a modern politico-economic discussion to a sixth century scenario. He speaks on behalf of free trade against protectionism in terms of crude 'village' business, but the arguments share the same essence with Twain's political reasons for deserting the Republican party to vote for Democrat Cleveland, a free trade advocate, in 1884.

Chapter 34 The Yankee and King Sold As Slaves

Hank quickly changes the subject and diverts their attention to his invention, a toy gun that dispenses money (in the form of shot). But the king awakes from his nap and feeling good, begins to talk about farming. Hank tries to warn him that they are on dangerous ground with Dowley and the men, but Arthur trips along and talks about onions growing on trees, "plums and other cereals" being dug up, and "the tranquilizing juice of the wayward cabbage." Now the townsmen believe Arthur to be mad and Hank to be a traitor. They try to kill the men, but Arthur rises up to his combative nature and strikes them down.

Arthur and Hank take to the woods and soon hear a posse with dogs coming after them. They wade into a stream and climb up a overhanging branch and wait for the search party to pass. Hank suggests that they move to a neighboring tree in case the villagers figure out their ruse. After dark, the search party returns, and someone suggests that they might have climbed the tree overhanging the stream. Hank is pleased at his clever foresight but is terrified to find that the blundering villager sent to investigate has chosen the wrong tree‹the tree that they are currently hiding in. They defend themselves as valiantly as they can against the onslaught of men. However, when the villagers start a fire, they realize their game is up and they come down from the tree to surrender. The mob is about to kill them both when a gentleman comes through and bids them to cease.

The gentleman asks them who they are and mounts them on his horses. The next morning they ride to a town twenty miles away. Their savior-gentleman is Lord Grip, a slave trader. He orders them to be cuffed to the chain gang and sold at auction. As they cannot prove that they are freemen, they have no choice but to go along.


When the King and Yankee are wrongfully sold as slaves, the King challenges the slave trader to prove that they are not freemen. Hank realizes that the King only knows the law "by words, and not effects"; that in practice, the burden of proof is often placed upon those most vulnerable to injustice.. Hank makes the thoughtful comment that as a Yankee, the unlawful bondage of free blacks into slavery "never made an impression" on him until he himself experienced it. Cognitively, he could take a moral stance on the issue and deem it "improper." For Hank, and, as he contends, for everyone else, it takes experience to finally realize that such practices are "hellish" rather than just wrong.

Chapter 35 A Pitiful Incident

The King and Hank are sold to another slave trader. Arthur is vexed and depressed that he has been sold for a mere seven dollars; he can't understand how he, a king, couldn't even be worth twenty-five. For a month they walk on the end of a chain-gang, whipped and beaten by a harsh master. Hank notes how the King's spirit is unfazed despite the hardship they are in. Arthur declares that at the end of this adventure he will abolish slavery; a result that makes the matter worthwhile for Hank.

They move on in cold weather, losing many of their company. One day, a beaten and bloodied woman runs to the slave train begging for protection against a pursuing mob. She is accused of being a witch. The slave master has an idea, and demands that the mob burns her on the spot. When they do, he forces his chain gang to stand around the fire and get warm.

Later, the gang passes the site of an execution‹a young mother suckling a child is going to be hanged for stealing linen. Her husband was conscripted and sent to sea without her knowledge. Unable to provide for herself, she sold what articles they owned and finally tried to steal a linen cloth to obtain food for her baby. The crowd pitied her and was moved by her case, but law was law and could not be circumvented. An onlooking priest promises the woman to care for her baby until he dies, which she gratefully acknowledges as the hangman lets her fall.


After being sold for a mere seven dollars, Arthur ponders "the nature of his prodigious fall" in what is Twain's modern rendering of the ancient theme of the Wheel of Fortune. Prominent in Arthurian legend as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, the Wheel of Fortune was a symbol of the cyclic nature of Fate, who raised up and brought down kings in their turn. Here, however, Arthur's fall serves an educational and social cause: to end slavery in England. Extending on Hank's previously stated belief that hard-headed humans need to experience a thing before understanding its gravity, their time in slavery has the express purpose of ending it. When Arthur finally decides he will abolish the institution, Hank decides to plan their escape, "but no sooner."

The story of the condemned girl is one which, by now, the reader can construct for himself. It contains all of the same elements of Victorian melodrama of Hanks previous stories: an oppressed woman with a helpless babe, estranged from her husband and condemned for a crime that the unjust laws caused her to commit in the first place. One notes again that Twain's tragedies are family tragedies, that is not enough to pity a woman to be hanged, it is a woman with a baby and a husband who is impressed into the merchant marine.