Study Guide

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Technology and Modernization

By Mark Twain

Technology and Modernization

Chapter 7

We made a few bushels of first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while they constructed a lightning-rod and some wires. (7.5)

Twain develops his hero's technology gradually, starting with simple items like a lightning rod. If he can't be logical and rational about what his hero does, he falls into the same trap as the stories he's ridiculing… and he's just too good of a writer for that.

Chapter 10

Unsuspected by this dark land, I had the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very nose! (10.3)

Hank needs to move in secret when developing his technology. Is he just motivated by fear of Merlin and the Church? Or is he hoping to control all technology himself? It might be both. Hank's smart enough to know that technology is just a tool, and its usefulness depends on who's using it. By keeping his inventions secret, he's also keeping them out of the wrong hands.

Chapter 13
Hank Morgan (a.k.a. The Yankee, a.k.a. The Boss)

"Put him in the Man-factory." (13.10)

Hank refers to his schools as man-factories, as if they can be built like tools on an assembly line. Twain might be taking a dig at the Industrial Age here: workers are just interchangeable parts, no different than the peasants in Arthur's age. He might also be suggesting that education makes the man.

Chapter 23

We put in a little iron pump, one of the first turned out by my works near the capital. (23.4)

This passage starts a lengthy description of the technological means used to restore the holy fountain. Twain wants the readers to understand what he's doing, even if Hank keeps the Arthurians in the dark.

Chapter 24
Hank Morgan (a.k.a. The Yankee, a.k.a. The Boss)

"If the king does not arrive, I will have myself ridden on a rail: if he does I will ride you on a rail instead." (24.13)

Hank is confronting the phony magician here. He's using technology to cheat, since he used the telegraph to figure out where the king was, but he's also using technology to set the terms of the competition. The loser will literally be ridden out of the valley on a rail… you know, the train kind.

Chapter 38

By George! here they came, a-tilting!—five hundred mailed and belted knights on bicycles! (38.3)

Technology here serves an epic, heroic purpose—Launcelot saving Hank and the king—but also pokes fun at it, since the vision of armored knights on bicycles is pretty silly.

Chapter 39

I snatched a dragoon revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a roar, and the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell what had happened.

Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor, stone dead. (39.11-12)

Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones.

Chapter 40

We had a steamboat or two on the Thames, we had steam warships, and the beginnings of a steam commercial marine; I was getting ready to send out an expedition to discover America. (40.2)

This raises an intriguing question: If Hank continues and the 6th century becomes the 19th, how much more advanced will people be in his own time? If we do the math, that would make Twain's own time the technological equivalent of the year 3288 or thereabouts. So flying cars, teleporting… the whole nine yards. Whether or not that would be a more fair and moral society is still up in the air: flying cars and teleporters do not enlightenment make.

Chapter 41

"Hello-Central!" (41.2)

Hank's final fate is foreshadowed by a technological phrase—a telephone greeting. Could this suggest that Hank's use of technology in an early era is wrong somehow? Is the 19th century coming back to collect its troublemaking son who's doing all sorts of things he shouldn't in Arthur's England?

Chapter 43

We fifty-four were masters of England. Twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us. (43.17)

The final battle predicts the carnage of World War I just a few decades after Twain wrote the book. Technology is a good thing on the surface here because it helps Hank triumph over his attackers… But 25,000 men killed so quickly? That's horrific, and a reality the world got to learn all about it just a few decades after Twain wrote his book.