A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: Theme Analysis

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Theme Analysis

Hank's thoughts dominate this novel and one of the main themes he constantly returns to is his desire for the disintegration of chivalry. His distaste for chivalry appears to be influenced by his strong republican beliefs and absolute distrust of the unearned privileges of the aristocracy. He also harbors antipathy towards the performance associated with its codes. He detests in particular the codes of knight-errantry and once he gains power as one of King Arthur's ministers he keeps attempting to undermine the power and customs of the knights; for example, he hopes to replace the tournaments with baseball, but the knights still insist on wearing their suits of armor.

As may be seen by this example of baseball-playing knights, this dislike of chivalry is also the main source of humor in the novel. One of the many other instances of this type of ridicule may be seen when Hank describes how uncomfortable and impractical the armor is when travelling by horse.

It is possible to glimpse a contradiction in Hank's hatred of this code, however, as he is only ever praiseworthy of Sir Launcelot (although he is barely referred to in the course of the novel). He is also complimentary to King Arthur (for once) when the king displays his commitment to honor when helping the woman who is dying from small pox.

Hank's strong beliefs pervade this work. His view of education is referred to intermittently and it is emphasized that he regards training and education as the necessary means to form a civilized society. He disavows the notion of human nature, and argues instead that it is our training (and environment) that shapes us. He considers the argument that human nature controls our actions to be a flawed one, particularly with regard to Morgan Le Fay.

Once he gains a foothold in the Camelot hierarchy, Hank is quick to ensure he sets up schools and academies. His value for education is reflected in his actions. Taking a step back from this character, it is possible to see that this novel acts as a treatise for the benefits of education and Hank is the means to voice such opinions.

When one looks beyond the satire and surface humor, it is possible to see that this novel is deeply concerned with the concepts of freedom and justice. This is displayed when Hank visits the dungeons of Morgan Le Fay, for example, and describes the conditions and lack of reason for the unfair treatment of the prisoners. This is also of concern when Hank and the king are sold as slaves.

Further to these specific points concerned with justice and fairness, there is the underlying and constant concern for equality. Hank's wish for equality is at times contradictory, though, as he claims to want a republic and votes for every man, yet enjoys and takes advantage of the title Sir Boss that is bestowed upon him.

Science in opposition to superstition
Hank's distaste for chivalry and romance also has parallels in his impatience with the general populace's love of fairy tales and enchantment. Hank brings a rationalist perspective with him from the 19th Century and takes a constantly jaundiced view of the gullible folk who believe everything they are told.

He is astounded how people do not ask for evidence and cannot understand why they practice blind faith in the narrator of stories.

It is possible to argue that Hank offers an obstinately subjective point of view, as he is never self-questioning about how he uses these superstitions for his own ends. He depends on the gullibility of the population for his own purposes as he uses his superior understanding of technology to impress them.


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