Clothing can convey information about a person’s occupation, social status, and gender. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, clothing symbolizes various characters’ ability to exert authority and control over others. Importantly, an ongoing concern with clothing contributes to the book’s critique of the rigidly hierarchal class system in feudal society. In Hank Morgan and Sir Sagramore’s climactic battle, Sagramore wears full plate armor while Hank wears a simple leotard and shorts. Sagramore’s armor protects him, but it’s also unwieldy and awkward to move around in. While Hank’s clothing leaves him more exposed, it also grants him easier mobility. Initially, this seems to suggest that the Hank’s nimble, 19th-century approach to the world is better than Sagramore’s medieval one, supporting Hank’s belief that everything about the 19th century is superior to the sixth century. But it’s not that simple. Like his armor, Sagramore’s medieval worldview is rigid and protective: his strongly-held worldviews give him a reasonable expectation of how the world works, and this helps him protect himself against outside dangers and opposing viewpoints. In contrast, the un-armored (and unsuspecting) Hank ultimately dies following the Battle of the Sand Belt when a wounded knight stabs him. Hank’s untimely death thus shows that Hank’s 19th-century approach to the world leaves him vulnerable and ill-equipped to survive in a world he doesn’t understand.
Because fashions change, the meaning of clothing is likewise malleable. Hank fails in his attempts to undermine the power of the knighthood by introducing silly fads like adding advertisements to their kit or replacing helmets with top hats. When enough knights have adopted the style, it becomes just another marker of their class status, rather than the indication of foolishness that Hank intended it to become. And because clothing conveys class status, changing costumes gives people the power to manipulate others’ perceptions. When King Arthur and Hank dress up as peasants to travel the countryside incognito, no one recognizes them. Nor does anyone recognize Merlin when he infiltrates the cave of Hank’s last stand disguised as a woman. In part, this offers a critique of hierarchal societies of divine-right monarchy. If a person’s clothing can’t actually say anything about the wearer’s class or gender, then people would be wise to avoid accepting truths based on appearance. Further, the fact that no one can recognize the most powerful two men in the kingdom unless they’re wearing fancy clothes suggests that there is nothing that inherently separates them from the lowlier members of the community.
Clothing Quotes in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
[…] many of the terms used in the most matter-of-fact way by this great assemblage of first ladies and gentlemen in the country would have made a Comanche blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey the idea. However, I had read “Tom Jones” and “Roderick Ransom,” and other books of that kind, and knew that the highest and first ladies and gentlemen in England had remained little or no cleaner in their talk, and in the morals and conduct which such talk implies, clear up to a hundred years ago; in fact clear into our own nineteenth century—in which century, broadly speaking, the earliest samples of the real lady and real gentleman discoverable in English history—or in European history, for that matter—may be said to have made their appearance.
There were no books, pens, paper, or ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows. It is a little thing—glass is—until it is absent, then it becomes a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn’t any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did—invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my line.
Meantime, it was getting hotter and hotter in there. You see, the sun was beating down and warming up the iron more and more all the time. Well, when you are hot, that way, every little thing irritates you. When I trotted, I rattled like a crate of dishes, and that annoyed me; and moreover I couldn’t seem to stand that shield slatting and banging, now about my breast, now around my back; and if I dropped into a walk my joints creaked and screeched in that wearisome way a wheelbarrow does, and as we didn’t create any breeze at that gait, I was like to get fried in that stove; and besides, the quieter you went the heavier the iron settled down on you and the more and more tons you seemed to weigh every minute.
The newest prisoner’s crime was a mere remark which he had made. He said he believed that men were about all alike, and one man as good as another, barring clothes. He said he believed that if you were to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he couldn’t tell the king from a quack doctor, nor a duke from a hotel clerk. Apparently here was a man whose brains had not been reduced to an ineffectual mush by idiotic training. I set him loose and sent him off to the Factory.
Here was heroism at its last and loftiest possibility, its utmost summit; this was challenging death in the open field unarmed, with all the odds against the challenger, no reward set upon the contest, and no admiring world in silks and cloth of gold to gaze and applaud; and yet the king’s bearing was as serenely brave as it had always been in those cheaper contests where knight meets knight in equal fight and clothed in protecting steel. He was great, now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors in his palace should have an addition—I would see to that; and it would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the rest, it would be a king in commoner’s garb bearing death in his arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and be comforted.
Self-made man, you know. They know how to talk. They do deserve more credit than any other breed of men, yes, that is true; and they are among the very first to find it out, too. He told how he had begun life an orphan lad without money and without friends able to help him; how he had lived as the slaves of the meanest master lived; how his day’s work was from sixteen to eighteen hours long, and yielded him only enough black bread to keep him in a half-fed condition; how his faithful endeavors finally attracted the attention of a good blacksmith, who came near knocking him dead with kindness by suddenly offering, when he was totally unprepared, to take him as his bound apprentice for nine years and give him board and clothes and teach him the trade—or “mystery” as Dowley called it.
We took up our line of march and passed out of Cambenet at noon; and it seemed to me unaccountably strange and odd that the King of England and his chief minister, marching manacled and fettered and yoked, in a slave convoy, could move by all manner of idle men and women, and under windows where sat the sweet and the lovely, and yet never attract a curious eye, never provoke a single remark. Dear, dear, it only shows that there is nothing diviner about a king than there is about a tramp, after all. He is just a cheap and hollow artificiality when you don’t know he is a king. But reveal his quality, and dear me it takes your very breath away to look at him. I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.