A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

When Hank’s purchases start arriving on Saturday, Marco and Phyllis are completely overwhelmed. It’s not just food: Hank bought new furniture, crockery, beer, and the clothes. He asks them to keep quiet about his generosity so that he can have a chance to surprise the guests and “show off a little.” Marco and Phyllis especially appreciate their new clothes, but Arthur doesn’t even notice the difference.
Hank generously rewards Marco and Phyllis, elevating their status in the community. But his capricious generosity benefits only one family, making it look very much like the arbitrary power that medieval nobility and the Church exercise—and that Hank so despises. And Hank’s desire to “show off” suggests a need to consolidate his own power as “The Boss.”
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On the day of the party, Hank encourages Dowley to talk about himself which, as a self-made man, he is only too happy to do. Orphaned at a young age, his hard work earned the attention of a blacksmith who agreed to take him on as an apprentice. Now, he’s taken over the trade and married his former master’s daughter. They can afford luxuries like white bread every Sunday, salt meat twice a week, and fresh meat twice a month. The wheelwright and mason testify to the fineness of his household furnishings, which include five stools (for three family members), six wooden goblets, and two pewter platters. Despite his greatness, Dowley also wants people to know that he finds all men his equals, even, he insists cordially, Jones (King Arthur).
Dowley’s story illustrates the success and social mobility that Hank values. Hank’s Yankee and capitalistic past influence his ideas about democratic possibilities. For Hank, material items indicate success. By medieval material standards, Dowley lives quite a comfortable life. But it’s beyond impoverished by 19th-century standards. It’s also clear that, despite his words to the contrary, he considers himself better than others at the table, including (ironically and humorously) King Arthur.
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Dowley finishes boasting, and Phyllis starts to bring out the dinner equipment, starting with the table, a tablecloth (which even the blacksmith can’t afford), and six of their eight new stools. Then she brings out the new dishes, wooden goblets, “beer, fish, chicken, a goose, eggs, roast beef, roast mutton, a ham, a small roast pig,” and plenty of fine white bread. And when the table is spread, Hank subtly beckons the shopkeeper’s son to present the bill, which comes to 39,150 milrays (a denomination unique to Hank’s system which are each worth 1/100th of a cent), an amount so great that the shopkeeper expects to be paid on an installment plan. But Hank coolly drops four dollars on the table and tells the shopkeeper’s son to keep the change.
In contrast to Dowley, Hank shows off almost unimaginable wealth. While generosity motivates him to a certain extent, the desire to be admired and assert his superiority animates his actions as well. His public receipt of the bill—including having it read aloud—demonstrates this quite clearly. Hank intends this effect, like the others, to raise him in the estimation of his audience. Then, he plans to use his newly raised authority to influence them. And this certainly shows him to be a wealthy man.
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The guests are falling out of their chairs in amazement when Hank completes the show by handing Marco and Phyllis each a miller-gun (a money-dispensing device of his own design) loaded with fifteen cents. Hank’s triumph is complete, and Dowley is “mashed.” For all his boasting, the entire cost of his family’s extravagances is only about sixty-nine cents, and Hank has spent four dollars on one meal and shown how little such expenditures worry him. 
Hank, knowing that no mere commoner, however well off by medieval standards, can have access to the wealth his four dollars represents, asserts his dominance over Marco, Dowley, and everyone else at the table. But raising others’ opinion of him comes at the cost of humiliating them, which leaves Hank in an elevated, but also exposed position.
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