A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Around bedtime, Hank takes King Arthur up to his room and gives him an awkward haircut to help him better blend in with the commoners. Dressed in plain clothing, they can easily pass for farmers, shepherds, artisans, or other types of common people. They set out before dawn, with Hank carrying a backpack full of food to transition Arthur from his royal diet to the plainer fare of the poor. When they stop to eat, Hank takes the opportunity to withdraw from the king to sit and rest; customarily, he stands in the king’s presence.
The ease with which Arthur and Hank can change their appearances to conform to expectations of commoners suggests that there is very little that sets them apart from everyone else, despite Arthur’s royalty and Hank’s ongoing, egotistical emphasis on his own superiority to all the medieval “savages.” But the fact that Hank continues to show respect by standing in Arthur’s presence suggests that he’s adopted a more deferential attitude toward royalty than he’d like to admit.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
But the sound of approaching voices interrupts Hank’s rest. A train of nobles, servants, and baggage-mules appears in the road. Hank rushes back to the king to get him on his feet and remind him to show deference to the approaching nobles. Arthur does his best, although his posture isn’t very humble at all. One of the passing noblemen, angered by this affront, raises his whip, and Hank jumps to take the blow for the king. 
The beginning of the road trip suggests the power of training to direct a person’s actions: King Arthur’s royal training means that he’s accustomed to receiving deference, not giving it. And it’s incredibly difficult for him to change his habits. Yet again, despite his distaste for monarchy, Hank’s willingness to protect Arthur with his own body demonstrates the respect he has for the king.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Arthur naively wanders in and out of mischief for the next few days, taxing Hank’s patience and energy. After the king procures a dagger from a smuggler (commoners aren’t allowed to have weapons) he wants to know why Hank doesn’t just stop him when an inconvenient idea pops into his head. Taken aback, Hank stammers that he can’t read the king’s mind, only to realize that Merlin has claimed to be able to do so. Frantically trying to retain his reputation, Hank explains to the king that he’s out of practice with prophesying almost-current events. He’s better with the far distant future, even up to 1300 years hence. This surprises Arthur, who thinks it should be easier to prophesy the near feature. But he accepts Hank’s explanation and eagerly eats up the wonders Hank tells him about the future.
Arthur’s question to Hank shows the extent to which the citizens of the sixth century believe in his power. Because Hank knows that his power depends on others’ belief to sustain it, he must quickly reassert his skills in Arthur’s eyes. But in claiming that he’s better at prophesying certain events—things so far in the future that Arthur will never have a chance to verify them—Hank essentially recreates the performance of the rival magician he clashed with in the Valley of Holiness. While this suggests the gullibility of simple medieval minds, it also offers a timely reminder that the foundation of Hank’s power is fragile.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Whenever a knight-errant passes by, Arthur’s posture betrays his pride and his martial desire to challenge the man to a fight. Hank usually gets him out of the road in time. But on the third day, a rather spectacular incident occurs. Hank trips and goes flying. Nothing happens, but the near miss convinces him that it’s too dangerous to be carrying a dynamite torpedo around with him. As he’s thinking what to do with it, two knights-errant approach. Arthur, reverting to his royal training, expects them to turn aside. When they don’t, the knights’ horses nearly run over Arthur. Arthur hurls epithets at the knights, prompting them to charge at him, intending to strike him down where he stands. In the nick of time, Hank throws the torpedo at the horses’ feet.
Arthur’s inherent nobility continues to make it hard for him to show the proper deference and suggests that maybe something deeper in his character—and not just training—informs his attitude. The nearly exploded torpedo metaphorically foreshadows the powder keg conditions that Hank’s attempts to modernize medieval society are slowly creating. When Hank uses the torpedo—to spectacular effect—he demonstrates his unquestionable superiority to the knights. But his dominance lies in the field of killing and destruction, not in creating a better world. 
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
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Fragments of horse and knight flesh rain down on Hank and a stunned Arthur. There’s a hole in the road that no one will be able to explain. As the pair travel on, Hank explains that this miracle depends on a particular set of atmospheric conditions, so it’s unlikely he’ll perform another one like it any time soon.
Having just had to explain away the evident limits on his magical ability to mind-read to Arthur, Hank takes a proactive stance here to explain why he won’t be able to deploy another miracle (at least until he gets another torpedo from his weapons factory). Again, the knights’ gruesome end points toward Hank’s power being destructive, not creative.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon