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What themes are in A Connecticut Yankee in King's Arthur Court?

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xtreme69 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 8, 2009 at 8:49 AM via web

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What themes are in A Connecticut Yankee in King's Arthur Court?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 24, 2013 at 5:53 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the central themes of this hilarioius, but also quite sad and tragic, novel is the idea that technology can improve the world and bring it out of darkness and free it from superstition. This is shown in the way that Hank Morgan, a modern day American who revels in technology and new scientific advancements, goes back to Arthurian England and seeks to use his knowledge to make the lives of everybody better through science. He sees the church as deliberately keeping people in an entrapped state through promoting ignorance and seeks to use technology to transform the lives of everybody.

However, when war strikes towards the end of the novel, it is clear that in spite of Hank's best efforts to introduce technology slowly and gradually, the overwhelming superstition that still exists and the lack of understanding means that all of his careful technology is destroyed to ensure that no enemy can use it:

Our navey had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Also as suddenly and as mysteriously, the railway and telegraph and telephone service ceased, the men all deserted, poles were cut down, the Church laid a ban upon the electric light!

Even though, in times of peace, the advances are shown to be a good thing, when war occurs and in times of crisis, the natural state of Arthurian England exerts itself and the general ignorance concerning technology causes all of Hank's advances to be destroyed totally. Technology is also shown to be questioned in the way that Hank uses his understanding of electricity to create an electric fence and kill hundreds of knights. Technology, in some cases, seems to make life worse, as it enables him to kill more men than probably would have died in a "normal" traditional battle. The novel therefore explores, rather satirically, the theme of technology and asks if it really makes our lives better. 

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