Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” is a clear illustration of a feudalistic form of government dating back to the early 6th century. Twain had his own thoughts on this particular way of rule and because of that, creates a fictitious utopian society to explore his views. Certain themes and quotes truly struck as Twain was frank and thoughtful about some very controversial topics. Specifically, Twain was timely in his critique of the established oppressive government, while simultaneously discussing the historical issue of division between church and state. Within this rich narrative, the reader also sees Twain’s philosophic view of nature versus nurture.
By using Hank Morgan, who essentially travels back in time to King Arthur’s Court from the year 1889, Twain creates a perfect narrator to critique the foreign society in which he lands. Hank is a supervisor in a Connecticut gun factory before, after a whack to the head, he finds himself displaced into year 528 England. Using Hank’s voice and observation, Twain blatantly discusses nobility as “that, tyrannical, murderous, rapacious and morally rotten as they were, they were deeply and enthusiastically religious” (83). He follows the above with a direct piece on religion as a front for political gain, stating “Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty,….” (90). He touches on the arbitrary power of leaders, including the “Established Church.” The piece continues the critique on power by criticizing the origin of the queen’s entitlement and her superiority complex. In this same moment, Twain describes the queen as unapproachable with advice on justice or injustice. Her arbitrary punishments disgust the author.
Twain’s use of this narration to house his deeper thoughts continues with an expose on how the queen’s attitude is a result of pure “training.” Here we see a philosophical argument emerge. We explore whether there is a part of human development that comes from our natural origin that we are products only of our nurturing and training. This is another deeper theme couched within the narrative. Twain writes that “training is everything; training is all there is to a person. We speak of nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts of our own, no opinions of our own; they are transmitted to us, trained into us” (91). It is still unclear if these strong ideas are Twain’s or the Hank, the character he uses, but his tone is bold and his language is pointed and fierce. It is said that Twain himself, like Hank, worked in a factory at a young age and was unsuccessful in his investment in the market (Wiki). From this, it appears the Hank character is a reflection of the author himself.
During the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s, Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” stands for the principles that nobility is bad, organized religion is a front for political power and that humans are products of upbringing alone. These are strong and telling statements, cleverly embedded in a rich tale. Perhaps Twain used “King Arthurs Court” as a disguise for his thoughts on the political, philosophical and religious climate of his own life. This idea of using some form of a utopia as a canvas for these discussions was not Twain’s alone, but he certainly succeeded at it.