A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the courtyard, Hank tries to figure out where he is, but everyone uses strange turns of phrase like “me seemeth” and “comfort [my] very liver.” Finally, a page boy (later identified as Clarence) fetches Hank. The boy chatters cheerfully and then casually mentions that he was born in the year 513. Alarmed, Hank asks where—and when—he is. The page boy replies that he’s at Camelot—and the date is June 19, 528.
The phrases help to set the medieval scene and contribute to Hank’s sense of alienation and confusion. Thrown into this strange situation, Hank initially relies on Clarence to interpret the strange language, setting, and goings-on for him. Without a guide to the medieval context, the alleged superiority of Hank’s intellect evaporates.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
For some reason, Hank believes Clarence immediately. He is overwhelmed with sadness at the thought that no one he knows will be born for thirteen hundred years. He also quickly figures out a way to verify the truth. He happens to remember that a total solar eclipse happened on June 21, 528 at 11:57 am. Observing the eclipse (or not) will confirm the date. As a “practical Connecticut man,” he puts the issue of time travel aside until he can thus prove or disprove it.
By his training (or nurture), Hank is a rational, cool-headed Yankee. Thus, his easy acceptance of the implausible idea of time-travel subtly emphasizes the power of training to form a person’s character. His idea to use the eclipse also establishes the superiority of his basic 19th-century knowledge over the most learned medieval person. 
Themes
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Deciding to call the boy Clarence, Hank asks about the man who brought him to Camelot. Clarence explains that his captor is Sir Kay and Hank will have to wait in the dungeon until his friends pay his ransom.  But first, Kay will show Hank off to the court and tell the tale of his capture. Clarence and Hank sit in the great hall to wait for this. The hall is enormous, with vaulted ceilings, well-worn floors, and tapestries on the wall that lack sophistication and delicacy. At the center of the hall, splendidly dressed knights sit at a round table.
Hank asserts his dominance over the medieval period by casually renaming people to suit his 19th century tastes. In this moment of extreme danger and vulnerability, assigning a new name to Clarence indicates the strength of his inherent belief in his own superiority. Hank’s insistent non-appreciation of the hall’s grandeur emphasizes how little regard he, as a representative of the New World, has for the old guard of European history.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Generally, everyone listens respectfully and credulously to the knights’ tales, at least when a tussle among the many dogs that roam the hall doesn’t distract them. Hank is one of many prisoners. Some are injured, and all are unwashed. Their patient suffering surprises him until he realizes that they’ve probably treated their own prisoners in the same way and don’t expect better treatment. Their patience doesn’t come from “intellectual fortitude” or “reasoning,” but from “mere animal training.” Hank considers them “white Indians.”
Since the medieval court of Arthur represents the Old Order, even when ostensibly appreciating its good sides, Hank subtly denigrates it. Thus, he appreciates the knights’ storytelling but finds the audience too trusting. Further, without any evidence beyond his own assumptions, he distinguishes between his own mental fortitude (the result of reason) and the other prisoners’ stoicism (which is like a trick taught to an animal). In dehumanizing the medieval people, Hank compares them not only to animals but to Native Americans—a racist association that highlights the marginalized position of these nations in 19th-century America and suggests his own imperialistic ambition to colonize and reshape the new (to him) world of medieval England.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Quotes
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