A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hank is exhausted from the adventure, but he can’t sleep because the pigs—which are running around in the house—are making lots of noise. He’s also puzzled by how Sandy, as sane as anyone in the kingdom, could be deluded enough to think the pigs were women. But sanity is in the eye of the beholder: if he told her about the technology of the 19th century, like trains, hot air balloons, and telephones, she would think that he was crazy.
During his sleepless night, Hank considers the question of Sandy’s training and how deeply it has shaped her ideas about the world. Neither the sound, nor the smell, nor the sight of the pigs can convince her that she and Hank didn’t rescue ladies. His catalogue of modern technology that Sandy couldn’t imagine also points toward the importance of experience in maintaining belief.
Themes
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
In the morning, Sandy serves the pigs a grand breakfast at the main table, while Hank (because he is a commoner) is banished to a lesser seat in the hall. It turns out, to Hank’s surprise, that this isn’t Sandy’s home—they’ve just dropped off a herd of pigs at a random nobleman’s house. Sandy, however, maintains that the homeowner will be honored to host so many fine ladies. Hank’s next worry is how they’re going to get all these “ladies” home to their families, but Sandy breezily assures him that each lady is responsible for herself from now on. They come from such far-flung places that escorting them all would be an impossible task. She and Hank can leave them and return to Camelot together.
The pig breakfast criticizes the absurd limits of rank of title. It suggests that, in an aristocratic society, “nobles” deserve respect no matter how unqualified, dirty, or even un-human they are. In terms of the book’s ongoing criticism of monarchy and the old order represented by Arthurian England, the pigs stand for any and all hereditary nobles. Further, this episode literalizes Hank’s ongoing comparison of medieval people to animals, underwriting his imperialistic ambitions to force his vision of society on the sixth century.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
While Sandy bids farewell to “the pork,” Hank suggests that the servants to clean up the place before the family returns. He wants them to “dust around” where the “nobilities” left their mark, and he’s horrified when all the servants do is add another layer of rushes over the excrement and filth.
Since Hank compares medieval people to animals frequently throughout the book, the pig-ladies seem to represent the limit of medieval animality. The suggestion that no one cares where the animals defecate contributes to Hank’s dehumanizing opinions about the backwardness of feudal society.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
No sooner are Hank and Sandy on their way then they come upon a procession of well-dressed, well-equipped, middle-class pilgrims heading towards the Valley of Holiness. Like Chaucer’s pilgrims, they are pleasant and merry, and they’re telling off-color tales.
Leaving the pigs behind, Hank and Sandy encounter a cheerful sight that initially seems like it might show the Middle Ages (as a representative of the Old World) in a good light. Even so, the pilgrims tell crude stories.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
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Sandy explains the Valley of Holiness to Hank. Long ago, a group of monks moved there to study, pray, and practice austerities, like not bathing. Their spiritual endeavors quickly attracted pilgrims. There was no water source in the Valley initially, until God miraculously provided it in response an abbot’s (the leader of a community of monks) prayer. Unfortunately, fresh water allowed the devil to tempt the monks into worldly vanities like bathing. They constructed a bath. Because their desire for physical cleanliness destroyed their spiritual purity in God’s eyes, he dried up the well as punishment. Only after they destroyed the bath and vowed never to wash again did the water flow again. The community prospered, and now it includes a monastery, a convent, a foundling asylum (orphanage), and all the kinds of hermits a person could wish to see.
Sandy’s explanation of the Valley of Holiness satirizes the alleged holiness of Roman Catholic monks insofar as it suggests that their idea of spiritual cleanliness opposes Hank’s modern ideas about physical cleanliness. And since a criticism of Catholic Church forms a key part of the book’s criticism of the Old World generally, the episode in the Valley of Holiness serves to reinforce Hank’s (and the book’s views) on the superiority of the New World. This story also chides what the books sees as the superstitious element of Catholic faith since the monks fail to base their decisions on reason.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Later that afternoon, Hank, Sandy, and the pilgrims encounter another group of travelers. They are also pilgrims of a sort, but they are far less merry than the first band because they are slaves. These starved, filthy, and injured people are a pitiable sight. One stumbles with fatigue, and the slave drivers whip her furiously. Hank feels horror, but the pilgrims just note how expertly the driver wields the whip. Hank watches as a family is torn apart because the mother and baby were sold to a local lord, but not the father.
The contrast between the well-off pilgrims and the poor, downtrodden slaves emphasizes the cruelty and inhumanity of the medieval caste system and contributes to the book’s criticism of Old World social hierarchies. But this episode also forms part of the book’s satirical criticism of 19th-century American social issues, specifically its history of slavery. The book was published only a few decades after the end of the Civil War.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Quotes
The band of pilgrims stops at an inn for the night. In the morning, Hank intercepts Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy, another of his knights. Ozana carries stovepipe hats. Hank hopes he can undermine the power of the knighthood by making knights adopt ridiculous fashions. Sir Ozana bears bad news from the Valley of Holiness, where the miraculous fountain stopped flowing nine days ago. As prayers and repentance haven’t had an effect, the monks have sent for “The Boss” and Merlin to restore the miracle. Merlin is already there, working his charms.
Because clothing indicates status in medieval society, Hank tries to undermine the power of chivalry through foolish-looking fashions. But this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of fashion—if enough knights adopt, say, the stovepipe hats, they will simply become part of the style and not look ridiculous. More to the point, at the inn Hank learns of another opportunity to press his advantage over Merlin and consolidate more power.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank sends Ozana back to Camelot with a requisition for Clarence to send men and supplies from the Chemical Department to the Valley of Holiness as quickly as possible.
Hank’s request for chemicals and tools accentuates the contrast between magic, faith, and superstition—represented by the monks and Merlin—and science. In this way, the book suggests that the Catholic faith lies closer to superstition than science, further demonstrating the superiority of the new, Protestant, scientific world over the superstitious Old World.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon