A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Marco and Hank stroll toward the village. This allows them to pretend that they’ve summoned the authorities and set them after the young men. And it allows Hank to observe the sixth century’s caste-based behaviors. Marco shows reverence to the clergy and aristocrat; he’s friendly with the freemen; and he despises the slave. As they walk, a mob of children bursts out of the woods screaming for help. The men follow them into the woods to discover that the mob of children has nearly killed one of their members by hanging him from a tree with a bark rope.
Marco’s behavior toward the different levels of feudal society and the children’s cruel game both point to the strength of training in determining a person’s behavior in the world. But he also leans on his own slim superiority as a freeman over the slaves, suggesting that caste identification may be more inherent in humanity (and thus harder to overcome) than Hank assumes. In light of this behavior, it’s important to remember that Hank possesses unshakable belief in his own superiority.
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One matter on which Hank questions Marco is that of wages. As a good economist, Hank understands that it’s not the sheer amount of money one has that matters, but the purchasing power of that money. And speaking of money, he’s grateful to note that the new American denomination, coins, are in wide circulation there. While Marco haggles with a shopkeeper, Hank visits the local goldsmith and asks if he can make change for a $20 gold piece.
Hank can’t win his argument with Marco, since his position is based on post-medieval economic theories Marco doesn’t understand. This offers a pointed reminder about the limits of Hank’s power—which he has only as long as he convinces people of his superior understanding or power.
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The most interesting villager Hank meets is Dowley, the blacksmith. Dowley is wealthy (by village standards) and respected, and Hank invites him (and the head mason and wheelwright) to come to dinner at Marco’s on Sunday. Marco is pleased when Dowley accepts—then immediately terrified at the prospect of the cost he will incur. Hank insists that he will pay the entire bill to repay Marco and Phyllis for the hospitality they’ve shown to him and Jones (his alias for King Arthur).
Hank likes Dowley because he exemplifies the traits of the self-made man that Hank wants to turn out in his factories. But he also wants to show off and his desire to flaunt his wealth points towards personality traits (egotism, competitiveness) that bump against his democratic ideals and start to cause him increasing trouble from this point.
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Marco and Phyllis wear the coarse, heavily patched clothing of the commoners. Hank wants to get them each a “new suit.” Hank invents a backstory for Jones (Arthur), claiming that he’s a farmer who sometimes gets a big head. But Arthur is also deeply grateful for the hospitality and has asked Hank to demonstrate it by buying new clothes for Marco and Phyllis. They mustn’t let on that Hank told them it was Jones’s idea, though, due to the delicacy of Jones’s feelings. This not only provides the excuse for the gift but covers any mistakes the king might make in his poor-farmer act.
As an easily visible marker of status, clothing allows the medieval population to quickly pigeonhole each other in the social hierarchy. Thus, Hank’s desire to redress Marco and Phyllis runs parallel to his desire to elevate the status of the common man socially and political in medieval England. His attribution to Arthur further suggests that the king’s freeman act still hasn’t improved very much.
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Hank can’t do anything quietly and without theatrical flair. He flashes his money at a shopkeeper, then he orders all the necessary items for the dinner. The goods will be delivered Saturday afternoon and the bill will follow on Sunday.
Hank’s power has grown in direct proportion to the flashiness of his “effects.” But these happened under the understanding that he is a sorcerer or “The Boss,” not that he’s a common man. He’s about to test the limits of his authority.
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