A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
According to the Round Table’s knights-errant, not all castles are good places to stop. And while Hank usually feels that their tales are vastly overexaggerated, he does like to find out who owns a place before he knocks on the door. As he and Sandy approach the castle, they encounter a knight wearing an advertisement placard for “Persimmon’s Soap.” This is one of Hank’s civilizing projects. He hopes that the ads will undermine chivalry by making the knights look silly, and that if he can introduce a basic idea of cleanliness into the nobility and the populace, it will subtly undermine the Church’s authority. Since the established Church is, in his opinion, a “slave pen,” he doesn’t have any scruples about undermining it.
For all his talk about education and democratic ideals, Hank’s early initiatives focus on middle-class, 19th-century American creature comforts like tobacco and soap. And as with other of Hank’s plans, the connection between soap and undermining the authority of the Church or placard advertisements and reducing respect for chivalry remains murky. It seems as if Hank believes that if he can just recreate the conveniences and technologies of the 19th century, democratic ideals will arise on their own. 
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Quotes
A sales-knight is supposed to read the signs for the illiterate, then explain what the product is. If the lords and ladies of a castle are afraid to try the soap, he’s supposed to demonstrate how to use the soap on a dog or himself. If all else fails, he should wash a hermit. If he encounters another knight-errant, he should wash him and turn him into a sales-knight. Hank’s soap factory supports this effort; the factory is quickly growing, though Camelot’s residents don’t appreciate the factory’s stink.
The uphill battle the sales-knights face shows the power of training to influence people’s behavior. Soap is not harmful and even beneficial—but it's so strange and novel to the medieval mindset that it requires Herculean efforts to overcome people’s fears. This should suggest to Hank that the changes he hopes for will be harder to achieve than he anticipates.
Themes
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
The sales-knight tells Hank that the castle belongs to Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s sister. Then he admits that his sales trip is going poorly. He hasn’t sold a single cake of soap. He tried washing a hermit, but the hermit died and will be turned into a saint. This knight used to be renowned for great feats, which Sandy tells Hank all about as they ride to the castle.
The sales-knight’s failures highlight the difficulty Hank Morgan faces in reaching his goal of remaking the kingdom in the image of the 19th century. Appropriately, Hank finds himself visiting a shining example of medieval power in Morgan le Fay.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Morgan le Fay has an unpleasant reputation. She’s a sorceress, a wicked and devilish woman full of cold-blooded malice. She’s clearly in charge, with more power than her subdued husband, King Uriens, or her brawny son, Sir Uwaine (one of the knights in Sandy’s tale). In person, Morgan is surprisingly beautiful and alluring enough to make Hank conclude that her evil reputation is an exaggeration. But then, she kills a servant in cold blood for an innocent stumble. Slightly stunned, Hank still has the presence of mind to appreciate how quickly and thoroughly Morgan commands her servants to clean up the bloody mess.
The alignment of their names creates a strong association between Hank Morgan and Morgan le Fay. In many ways, Morgan epitomizes the feudal monarchy Hank wants to topple. Still, he finds her alluring and impressive despite her violence. This suggests a tendency toward physical force that Hank has so far denied. He also notices the contrast between her looks and reputation. Importantly, this contrast foreshadows ways in which Hank’s efforts at modernization seem beneficial but ultimately unleash chaos and violence.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
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When Hank momentarily forgets the bad blood between Morgan and her brother and compliments King Arthur, Morgan orders him into the dungeon. Fortunately, Sandy pipes up, asking if Morgan covets destruction; it’s dangerous to cross “The Boss.” Instantly, Morgan becomes gracious, fawning over Hank and begging for an example of his great sorcery.
Although he’s been in the kingdom for a little more than four years, Hank still has much to learn about medieval society. In this moment of danger, when he falls back on his modern training and forgets all he’s learned about the conflicts of this medieval kingdom, Sandy steps into the breach. Luckily, his fearsome reputation nudges Morgan back into line.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon