A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hank arranges to send the poaching peasant home. The priest asks Hank to punish the executioner for needlessly terrorizing the peasant’s wife. This forces Hank to acknowledge, despite his distaste for the Church, that many low-level priests are truly decent, moral people. Hank doesn’t want to get rid of religion entirely. But his distrust of singular authority means that he would prefer to have “forty sects” whose competition would prevent any single one from becoming too powerful. Hank declines to rack the executioner but punishes him by appointing him the new leader of the castle’s band. 
This episode with the priest forces Hank to question some of his assumptions about medieval society. However, Hank usually chooses to ignore or downplay evidence contrary to his established beliefs (for instance, that all priests are bad and greedy). Thus, he shows himself to be as blinded by his own beliefs and as he thinks the medieval people are blinded by superstition and ignorance.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Morgan is outraged to have been denied the peasant’s property or his life. While Hank admits that law and custom entitle her to both, he claims that extenuating circumstances required him to pardon the prisoner. Morgan can’t understand the concept of extenuating circumstances, forcing Hank to recognize the futility of trying to educate her. He reflects that a person’s nature is the result of their training and education more than their inborn personality. Morgan is intelligent, but the norms of her century and class hold her back.
Episodes like this one, where Hank shows his intent to impose his values on medieval society rather than to change medieval society from within its own context, point toward the colonial attitude Hank has toward people he believes to be inferior to him morally and intellectually. Thus, while he claims to have a democratic project underway in England, many of his actions recall those of conquering colonizers. In other words, even as he expresses frustration with Morgan’s inability to rise above her own training, he fails to critically examine the effects of his training on himself. 
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Quotes
Hank and Morgan have mutually unintelligible concepts of justice. Morgan believes that she has the right to take the lives of her servants and peasants at will. By this logic, she doesn’t own the murdered servant’s family anything, but she still plans to pay his grandmother a recompense for his life to please Hank. Hank knows that she’s going above her legal responsibility, but because he rejects the idea that she should own these lives can’t respect her for her efforts. He offers her the weak compliment that her “people will adore [her]” for this generosity. But he knows that if he gets the chance, he will hang her for the crime of following laws that he thinks are “altogether too bad.”
In judging Morgan, Hank places himself above the law. Earlier he explained that he feels the right to do so because his constitution (in 19th-century Connecticut) invests the people to change their government. But this isn’t his government—he's an outsider. Thus, although he claims to be animated by democratic values, Hank’s actions often suggest that he enjoys having unchecked power to impose his will on those around him. Morgan’s frustration with being deprived of her rights provides insight into the kinds of resentments that will turn the nobility against Hank later in the book.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Thoroughly disgusted, Hank wants to leave, but his conscience demands that he first examine the contents of Morgan le Fay’s dungeons. He finds a woman who was imprisoned on her wedding night nine years before for refusing a local lord “le droit du Seigneur” (the right to have sex with the bride before the groom does) and scratching him in the process. Her fiancée is in the dungeons too, but they have both been so physically and mentally destroyed by their confinement that they don’t recognize each other when Hank reunites them.
Again, Hank’s tour of Morgan’s dungeons provides a litany of human rights abuses perpetuated by the medieval aristocracy he considers so barbaric. The “droit du seigneur,” although almost certainly a historical fiction, is a particularly emotionally compelling example of aristocratic abuse. And it’s easy for Hank to note medieval abuses without having to turn a critical eye on the sins of his own time and place.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
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Hank orders all but one of Morgan’s 47 prisoners released. The one prisoner who remains imprisoned is awaiting execution for murdering one of Morgan’s relatives. Hank doesn’t care about this but does care that the man maliciously destroyed a village, as well, ruining the lives of his peasants in the process. The rest of the prisoners committed offenses like calling Morgan’s hair “red” instead of “auburn” or declaring that no one could tell a king from a commoner without the distinctive clothes of rank. Hank sends the second man to his factory. Some of the prisoners have suffered psychological torture at Morgan’s command; others have been there so long that no one remembers their names or crimes.
The reason Hank allows Morgan to keep the one prisoner highlights the democratic and populist values he holds—the man cruelly repressed and harmed the freemen living on his lands. But this provides another example of Hank holding himself above the law. There are no democratically decided laws for him to follow, and he refuses to acknowledge the monarchy’s right to rule, which means that he makes decisions entirely based on his own thoughts and feelings. In this way, he is no better than Morgan, who jailed and tortured people as easily on silly offenses as treasonous ones. And again, Hank selectively sends to his factory people who already espouse the values he wants to inculcate, suggesting that his idea of democracy—government by the people—isn’t as broad as he implies.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Quotes
When Hank brings this procession of “human bats” into the sunshine, he expresses his wish that he could photograph the spectacle they present as evidence against the cruelty of the monarchy and Church. Morgan, who can’t possibly know what “photograph” means, grabs an ax and offers to do it for him. But Hank stops her before she can do any further harm.
Again, despite the mercy he seems to show in freeing these prisoners, Hank can’t resist applying the same dehumanizing language to them as everyone else. It seems he's no more capable of rising above his instinctive responses than Morgan.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon