A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hank has humiliated Dowley. But his evidently great wealth has also earned the blacksmith’s respect. If Hank only had a noble title, he could have earned “adoration” as well. The British won’t have shaken their love of their oppressive aristocracy even by the 19th century. Arthur leaves the table to take a post-dinner nap, and the talk turns to the wages under the local king—whose lands are governed by the feudal or “protection” system—compared to the wages in Camelot, where “free trade” flourishes. Dowley and his neighbors earn many more cents per week for their labor (he can even afford to pay his men more than the going rate), so they conclude that protection is superior. Hank tries to explain that total wages don’t matter as much as their purchasing power; under free trade, workers earn fewer cents, but they can afford more with them.
While Hank uses Dowley’s humiliation to reflect on the British hereditary love of aristocracy (thus contributing to the book’s ongoing critique of old world, especially British, society), it also sounds like he would almost like to have the noble title that would earn him Dowley’s adoration as well as respect. This is thus one of many points in the book where Hank’s desire for personal power and respect runs up against his professed democratic values, suggesting that he values personal authority more after all. In his usual fashion, however, he follows his show with an attempt to educate or overwrite medieval values—in this case with a 19th-century, American-based economic lesson.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
But Dowley’s fails to understand that the value of money can vary from one kingdom to the next. Hank is the “best-informed man in the entire world,” yet an ignorant blacksmith has won the argument with his irrational beliefs. Never one to allow another man to best him, Hank takes one more line of attack. Citing the unwritten law of advancing wages, he announces that he can predict what they will be many hundreds of years into the future. Hank whisks his audience through the centuries and predicts that, 1300 years or so in their future, a “mechanic” (skilled laborer) will make 200 cents in a day. They are flabbergasted at the idea; two dollars is more than a sixth-century earl earns in a day.
But Hank’s attempts to educate the villagers prove futile; they either cannot understand or accept his arguments. This irks Hank and wounds his pride. Having failed to convince via rational argument, he refuses to step down, intent on imposing his 19th-century worldview on people he perceives as ignorant natives. He thus falls back on his stage persona as a magician and leverages the medieval gullibility and superstition he so disrespects to soothe his own ego and make his point.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Quotes
Hank also shares that, in the future, it won’t be the magistrate who fixes the wages for everyone else. The workers will combine into “trade unions” and negotiate their own pay. In the distant future, Hank promises, a man “will be his own property” and won’t be pilloried (exposed to public punishment) for leaving his job. But this information fails to have its intended effect; Dowley is horrified at the thought of an age in which there is so little respect for authority. Hank argues that the pillory should be abolished. In theory, it’s a non-capital form of punishment, since it’s just supposed to expose the condemned to public humiliation. But in practice, a man so exposed is liable to be killed through the malice or envy of his neighbors, who can take advantage of the opportunity to stone him to serious disability or death.
Hank, invigorated by his success predicting future wages, continues to explain the worker’s utopia he sees the 19th century to be. But here he has overshot, apparently having forgotten the power of training to influence people’s behavior and beliefs. Rather than being charmed at the idea of a world in which people like them have power, the villagers react with horror at what sounds to them like anarchy. Even Hank’s thesis on the cruel and unusual nature of punishment on the pillory fails to move them.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank sets up his final blow by pointing to another unfair law: if a person knows about a neighbor’s illegal act and fails to report it, the person can be punished for this failure. Isn’t it a shame, he asks, that he should be required to report Dowley for illegally paying his employees more than the going rate? Dowley and the others are nearly frightened to death; for an instant, Hank is proud of the finest “effect” he’s ever produced. But then, he realizes he’s gone too far. These men don’t know him, so they have no reason to trust that he won’t inform on Dowley.
As pervious episodes have demonstrated, Hank only has power so long as people fear and respect him. In his desperate desire to win the argument and to show off his superiority, he overshoots his mark. He earns the villagers’ fear—but not their respect. After all, he’s only shown his wealth. He hasn’t done anything that would appear magical to the medieval mind. Belatedly, he realizes the limits on his own power to change medieval society.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
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