A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Around noon, Hank and Sandy encounter Sir Madok de la Montaine, one of Hank’s sales-knights who advertises toothbrushes and toothpaste. Madok explains that he fell victim to a prank that Sir Ossaise of Surluse, Hank’s stove-polish man, played on him. (Hank wants to create demand for stove-polish so that when stoves are introduced, people will be ready to buy it.) Ossaise told Madok about a band of travelers in need of his products. Madok rushed though rough terrain to reach them, only to discover that they were the prisoners from Morgan’s dungeons. They didn’t have a tooth among them. 
Hank’s second sales-knight also sells hygiene products which both signify the modernity of the 19th century and, by extension, offer a reminder of the uncivilized nature of medieval life. But the advertisements for stove polish invite questions since Hank hasn’t introduced stoves yet. Even the toothpaste, as the practical joke demonstrates, has limited use in this time and place. This raises questions about Hank’s motives and suggests that he might not be prioritizing the most important or useful changes to medieval culture.
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Still angry, Sir Madok rides off. Later in the afternoon, Hank and Sandy see one of the freed prisoners. The prisoner’s friends and neighbors welcome him home, but it’s a sad sight because imprisonment has destroyed his mind and memories and left him a broken man. It’s also sad because it shows Hank how willingly the commoners accept their lot in life despite its injustices. Hank realizes that “goody-goody talk” alone can’t free people; sometimes a bloody revolution is necessary. But he claims that he’s not the man for bloody revolutions.
The situation of the freed prisoner does point toward the cruelty and injustice of the medieval laws, thus confirming Hank’s belief about medieval moral inferiority. But as he increasingly thinks of revolution in terms of violence, it seems that he himself tends toward cruelty; he did just allow Morgan to execute a bunch of people for the crime of playing their music badly.
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Two days later, Sandy announces that they’ve arrived at the ogres’ castle. But Hank looks ahead of them and sees three scrawny swineherds guarding a pigsty. Sandy decides that the castle must have been enchanted. With a promise that he knows how to treat a lady whether she looks like a princess or a pig, Hank springs into action. He buys the herd off the swineherds. This saves the swineherds from bankruptcy by giving them the cash they need to pay their taxes to the lord of the manor and the Church. When Hank opens the gate, Sandy rushes in to embrace and address the pigs as if they were fine ladies. Finally, after considerable difficulty, Hank and Sandy herd the animals to a manor house ten miles away.
Sandy’s insistence that the swineherds are ogres, despite the evidence she presumably sees with her own eyes, recalls the credulous way that the court at Camelot accepted Kay’s claims that Hank was a magical giant. This suggests the strength of training to direct belief—taught that magic and marvels fill the world, Sandy works to accommodate reality to this belief. In playing along, Hank completes his quest, but he also seems to miss the fact that he’s conforming to Sandy’s belief. He's missing the warning that it will be harder than he assumes to overcome the lessons nurtured into the medieval population.
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