A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Metaphors 6 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Chapter 3: Knights of the Table Round
Explanation and Analysis—Sonorous Snores:

In Chapter 3, Hank uses a simile and metaphor to describe the sight and sound of a group of knights sleeping: 

The droning voice droned on; a soft snoring arose on all sides and supported it like a deep and subdued accompaniment of wind instruments. Some heads were bowed upon folded arms, some lay back with open mouths that issued unconscious music.

Hank uses a simile and compares the soft snoring of the knights to the sound produced by wind instruments. This comparison adds a layer of musicality to the scene, albeit one of monotony and sleepiness. It also reinforces the idea that the knights' snoring is a constant and unchanging background presence, much like a musical score. 

Hank also uses a metaphor and describes the snoring as "unconscious music," as if the men were instruments themselves. This metaphor transforms the ordinary act of snoring into something artistic and musical. It also highlights the unintentional and involuntary nature of the sound, as the knights are unaware of their own "performance."

Together, this simile and metaphor enhance the reader's understanding of the monotonous and tiresome nature of the knights's snoring. Twain uses figurative language to convey the idea that the snoring has turned the room into an orchestra, a memorable image that sparks the reader's imagination. 

Chapter 6: The Eclipse
Explanation and Analysis—A Man's Mercury :

In Chapter 6, Hank uses a metaphor to describe his growing sense of confidence once he realizes he can use his knowledge of the impending eclipse to his advantage: 

I said to myself that my eclipse would be sure to save me, and make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides; and straightway my mercury went up to the top of the tube, and my solicitudes all vanished.

Twain uses figurative language here to describe Hank's changing emotions in an evocative way. Mercury is a substance used in thermometers to calculate temperature. In this instance, the substance mercury represents Hank's spirits and sense of wellbeing. When he decides that his knowledge of the eclipse will save him and elevate his status, he experiences a sudden shift in his emotions. Just like how mercury rising on a thermometer indicates an increase in temperature, Hank's confidence increases, and his worries and concerns notably vanish. 

All in all, Twain uses this metaphor to illustrate Hank's change in emotional state from apprehension to confidence as he believes that his knowledge of the eclipse will secure his safety and elevate his status. Twain's use of figurative language here also adds a touch of humor to the situation, as the comparison to a thermometer is unexpected and whimsical. 

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Chapter 8: The Boss
Explanation and Analysis—Just a Crab:

In Chapter 8, Hank uses a metaphor when describing his reason for setting up a patent office in Camelot: 

A country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or backwards.

In this metaphor, the country is likened to a crab. Crabs are known for their distinctive sideways or backward movement. They can never walk forward. Forward movement is typically associated with progress and advancement. In comparing medieval England to a crab, Hank suggests the country is ultimately unable to progress.

In using this metaphor, Hank also makes the claim that without modern innovations like a patent office, England's growth will be limited. Hank's use of metaphor here reflects his opinions of the societies and customs of medieval England and is a form of social commentary. In general, he believes that a country that doesn't encourage and protect innovation is hindered in its ability to move forward and thrive, and believes in the importance of legal and institutional frameworks that support invention and innovation. But rather than simply describing these beliefs, Twain uses figurative language to convey them to the reader in a creative and memorable way—like a crab that can only scuttle sideways or backwards.

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Chapter 11: The Yankee in Search of Adventure
Explanation and Analysis—A Packed Nut:

In Chapter 11, Hank uses a humorous metaphor to describe his displeasure with the custom of men wearing armored suits: 

Well, a man that is packed away like that, is a nut that isn’t worth the cracking, there is so little of the meat, when you get down to it, by comparison with the shell.

Hank first describes the men as "packed away," a description that implies they are restricted and confined in some way, and that their true self or potential is hidden or suppressed. He then likens these men's inner selves to the edible part of a nut, which is often inside a hard shell. The phrase "isn't worth the cracking" implies that the effort required to access or reveal these true selves is not worth the trouble, as there is very little of value on the inside compared to the outside. 

This use of figurative language reflects Hank's distaste for armored suits. He finds them cumbersome, impractical, and extremely uncomfortable. Hank's criticism of the armored suit also reflects his criticism of the traditions of medieval society at large; coming from the 19th century, he sees these traditions as antiquated and ignorant. His use of metaphor here emphasizes the idea that when individuals are tightly controlled or confined by external forces or societal expectations, their true selves or potential may remain hidden and underdeveloped.

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Chapter 12: Slow Torture
Explanation and Analysis—Sandy's Words:

In Chapter 12, Hank uses a humorous metaphor to describe Sandy's manner of speaking:

She never had to slack up for words. She could grind, and pump, and churn and buzz by the week, and never stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was just nothing but wind.

Rather than describing Sandy's loquacious nature in straightforward terms, Twain uses figurative language here to humorously and evocatively describe it. Twain likens Sandy's actions and speech to the mechanical operations of various machines. Grinding, pumping, churning, and buzzing are all repetitive and continuous motions typically associated with machinery, suggesting Sandy is constantly active and animated in her speech. In general, Hank describes Sandy as having a high level of energy and activity. "Never stop to oil or blow out" further emphasizes the relentless nature of Sandy's speech; Machines need regular maintenance to keep functioning smoothly, but Sandy never pauses or takes a break when speaking. 

Twain ends his description of Sandy by describing the outcome of Sandy's actions and speech as  "nothing but wind." This implies that despite all her energetic and ceaseless activity, what she produces is essentially empty and without substance. "Wind" in this context suggests that her words and actions are meaningless, lacking in significance or impact. 

Overall, this metaphor serves to critique Sandy's behavior by portraying her as a machine-like individual whose speech is active but actually is of little substance. In having Hank poke fun at Sandy's speech, Twain highlights the idea that mere activity and words, without purpose or substance behind them, are ultimately empty and futile. 

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Chapter 28: Drilling the King
Explanation and Analysis—Hourglass of a Brain:

In Chapter 28, Hank insults King Arthur's intelligence using a metaphor: 

His head was an hourglass; it could stow an idea, but it had to do it a grain at a time, not the whole idea at once.

In the passage above, Hank likens King Arthur's head to an hourglass, a timekeeping device consisting of two glass bulbs connected by a narrow neck with sand flowing from one bulb to the other. This comparison suggests that King Arthur's head has a limited capacity for holding and processing ideas, much like the limited volume of sand an hourglass can hold.

This image also suggests that King Arthur's thought process is not immediate or instantaneous, like pouring all the sand in an hourglass at once, but is instead slow and incremental, like the gradual flow of sand through the narrow neck of the hourglass. This comparison is strikingly evocative and memorable, and of course not literal. In likening the king's mind to an hourglass that can retain ideas but does so in a slow and inefficient manner, Hank subtly delivers an insult to the king's intelligence. The use of the hourglass metaphor creates a vivid visual image in the reader's mind, and allows them to picture a complex idea like King Arthur's mental capacity. 

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