A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

By the fourth day of the trip, Hank knows he must rehearse Arthur’s peasant act until it’s finally convincing. The king’s clothing is right, but his bearing is too “straight” and “confident.” Hank demonstrates the downtrodden demeanor of the lower classes then asks Arthur to practice it himself. Arthur quickly masters the details, but his performance is so careful that it still doesn’t look natural. Hank decides that they’ll spend the whole day practicing.
Arthur’s clothing indicates lowly status externally, but his attitude and character suggest his noble upbringing. The amount of effort required to teach (or retrain) him to emulate the lower classes’ downtrodden demeanor points to the uphill challenge Hank faces in overcoming medieval attitudes and biases. And Arthur’s ultimate failure to make his commonness look unrehearsed suggests that there might be an inherent superiority or nobility to his character. 
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Hank asks King Arthur to demonstrate how he would approach a hut situated nearby. Arthur’s instinct is to demand that the “varlet” who lives there bring him a seat. Hank explains that common folk address each other as “friend” or “brother.” He points out that Arthur has forgotten to ask for a second seat for Hank (with whom he is pretending to be equal) and informs him that he will have to enter the house to partake of whatever hospitality—and filth—he finds there. 
Hank’s drills also have the effect of forcing Arthur to adopt (however temporarily) a more democratic attitude, one that holds Hank as an equal, even though he lacks noble blood. The activity also paints Hank’s ideal vision of the world: one where all men are friends and brothers and where everyone sits at the same table.
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As Arthur resumes practicing his downtrodden peasant attitude, Hank encourages him to imagine a life completely unlike his own, one in which he is in debt, out of work, and unable to feed his children. Arthur’s lack of life experience limits his ability to empathize. In contrast, Hank has lived the life of a manual laborer and knows how degrading it can be. He prefers his current, extremely pleasurable “intellectual” work. It’s just an unfair part of life that the more pleasurable jobs seem to pay better. 
To Hank’s frustration, Arthur demonstrates a nearly complete inability to imagine himself in the commoners’ shoes. In contrast, Hank understands being downtrodden and refuses to step into that role again. But he has his own gaps in understanding and finds it as hard to conceive of the nobility’s feelings as it is for Arthur to imagine peasants’ feelings.
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