A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court can help.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hank spends a miserable night in the city jail. In the morning, when the magistrate hears his case, he claims that he’s a slave of the Earl Grip. When the earl was taken ill the previous evening, Hank explains, he was sent to fetch a doctor. It was in the midst of this errand that a commoner engaged him in a fight. The other man interrupts, shouting that Hank attacked him without provocation, but the magistrate finds Hank’s tale convincing. Not only does he set Hank free, but he orders the commoner to be whipped as punishment for treating the servant of a nobleman so poorly.
Although Hank frequently criticizes the capricious medieval justice system—which depends on judges’ feelings rather than hard evidence—he yet again demonstrates his willingness to abandon his principles for the sake of self-interest when he allows an innocent common man to be whipped for a crime that he didn’t commit.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank returns to the slave quarters and finds that the slave master has been beaten to death. An onlooker tells Hank that, during the night, the master found his most valuable slave missing. When he started to beat the remaining 15 slaves, they joined forces and killed him. Since it’s an open and shut case, all of the slaves have been sentenced to death as soon as officers can find the missing one. A guard has been put on all the city gates, and officers of the watch have enlisted the convicted slaves to help them search for the missing slave.
The mass punishment of the slaves forms part of the book’s criticism of slavery and the injustice of hierarchal social systems. But it also highlights Hank’s callous attitude towards others. Believing in his own infallible superiority, he risked the lives of everyone on a dramatic escape.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank procures a disguise at a second-hand clothes seller’s shop, then he follows the telegraph line to the local office. He orders the surprised clerk to call Clarence at Camelot. After ordering the clerk to leave, he taps out a coded message, telling Clarence what’s happened and asking him to send Launcelot and 500 knights to spring them from jail. Launcelot will be able to recognize Hank by the white cloth wrapped around his right arm. Hank knows it will take the heavily equipped knights most of the day to make the trip on horseback. But he’s already eagerly anticipating the theatrics of the knights surrounding the prison and rescuing the king.
Hank’s disguise emphasizes the idea presented throughout the book that the clothes make the man. If being dressed as a slave prevented him from being recognized as The Boss, then changing into more boss-like clothes should provide him some measure of authority and protection. Having been disempowered, first by choice (in disguise as a commoner) and then by force (sold into slavery), Hank eagerly anticipates reclaiming his role and authority as The Boss with a flashy rescue.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
In the meantime, Hank plans to reveal himself to some of the people he knows in town. But he needs to look more recognizable, so he plans to trade up his clothes until he’s dressed in his normal, sumptuous garb. But almost immediately, he encounters one of the patrols out looking for him, and the slave accompanying the watchman recognizes him. Hank ducks into a nearby shop. Telling the keeper that he’s a disguised officer chasing the escaped slave, he ducks out the back, locking the door behind him. He’s made a “picturesque” excuse rather than a “plausible” one. The officer easily sees through it and promptly takes him into custody.
Notably, however, Hank’s desire to create picturesque effects rather than plausible ones has been a source of trouble since he disguised himself as a commoner. This suggests that his authority lies in manipulating others’ belief in his power, not in his inherent superiority. But Hank doesn’t seem to understand this distinction. He does intuit, however, the importance of looking like the powerful version of himself, so he starts to trade up his clothes slowly.
Themes
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Get the entire A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court PDF
The slave identifies Hank as the missing man, eager that the person responsible for his death sentence should hang, as well. Hank accepts his logic and doesn’t press the matter, but he does promise that they will be free by the morning. The officer of the watch interrupts to point out that the slaves will now be hung today at midafternoon. No further delay is necessary since they’ve caught Hank. Hank goes weak in the knees; the knights will never arrive in time to save the king, or, more importantly, him. And the baby civilization he’s fostering will die.
Bereft of the sources of his authority, Hank agrees with the slave’s view of justice: since Hank caused the trouble it’s only fair that he is punished alongside the others. But realizing that he’s about to die before he can accomplish his effect causes him to confess his true attitude. As a would-be colonizer of the sixth century and feudal society, Hank truly does consider himself the most important person in the kingdom.
Themes
Imperialism  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon