Study Guide

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Society and Class

By Mark Twain

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Society and Class

Chapter 8

They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits. (8.3)

Hank mixes condescension in with sympathy for the underclass. He really doesn't think much of them, does he? He's on their side only because the nobles kick them around like soccer balls. If the positions were switched—if the peasants were the nobles and vice versa—things might not look all that different from how they do under the current dynamic.

Chapter 13

They were as humble as animals to me; and when I proposed to breakfast with them, they were so flattered, so overwhelmed by this extraordinary condescension of mine that at first they were not able to believe that I was in earnest. (13.4)

Contrast the attitude of the peasants to those of the nobles in earlier passages: The nobles expect everything to be given to them; the peasants start doing cartwheels when you give them the time of day. Neither side is perfect, but Hank sure knows which group he's going to bat for.

Here I was, in a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population. (13.9)

Hank explains why a class society like this is neither right nor just. Like a lot of his quotes, it gets right to the point—part of what makes him different (and in a lot of ways better) than the nobles who ruled the country.

Chapter 17
Hank Morgan (a.k.a. The Yankee, a.k.a. The Boss)

"It's a Factory where I'm going to turn groping and grubbing automata into men." (17.11)

More than once Hank cuts through class labels like peasant and lord and uses the term men to refer to educated equals. Here he's also using terms like factory and automata, which are connected to the Industrial Revolution (which was in full swing during Twain's time). Could there be some irony here, since the Industrial Revolution wasn't really known for its equality?

Chapter 27

As a rule, the speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything—I mean in a dog-fightless interval. (2.7)

There's a very subtle jab at the upper class here: the nobility of the upper class rises only when they're not paying attention to the dogfights.

Chapter 30

It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when the "poor whites" of our South who were always despised and frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery. (30.10)

The comparison here reminds us that class inequities still exist in Twain's time… and beyond it as well. (We could draw the same conclusions about political issues today.) It also explains why people will support their own subjugation… or in American terms, why we cheerfully vote against our own interests sometimes.

Chapter 33

In a country where they have ranks and castes, a man isn't ever a man, he is only part of a man, he can't ever get his full growth. You prove your superiority over him in station, or rank, or fortune, and that's the end of it—he knuckles down. (33.1)

Hank doesn't just hates the system, but also hates what it's done to people—everyone fails to realize their full potential.

Chapter 34

He might be lame in agriculture, but this kind of thing was just in his line. (34.4)

Arthur gets into trouble when he tries to talk agriculture, which suggests that class differences are harder to eliminate than Hank would like. It also suggests that the pendulum swings both ways, and that if nobles didn't have power on their side, then the peasants wouldn't treat them any better.

There is nothing diviner about a king than there is about a tramp. (34.14)

Hank stresses character rather than station here: measuring worth by deeds not titles. It's pretty progressive. Also, Twain uses king and tramp basically as equals, which elevates the tramp up as much as it denigrates the king down. Twain really liked tramps, it seems—we see a lot of them in other books like Huckleberry Finn.

Chapter 38

It was fine to see that astonished multitude go down on their knees and beg their lives of the king they had just been deriding and insulting. (38.3)

This seems to say that class is all about perception: the king rules just because people think he should rule, and if they stop thinking it, he stops ruling. Again, this is Hank's big challenge in the book. Strangely, he reaches it off-screen during the three years after he defeats Sir Sagramor. Apparently it's a lofty goal, but not interesting enough to write about.

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