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How does Mark Twain use satire and iconoclastic humor in A Connecticut Yankee in King...

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xtreme69 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 5, 2009 at 6:08 AM via web

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How does Mark Twain use satire and iconoclastic humor in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

Relate specifically to social injustice, modern technology, and the Catholic Church.

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted July 3, 2010 at 8:52 AM (Answer #1)

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Though it was his initial aim to present a tale of King Arthur and his knights, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain instead rails against what he perceived to be injustices in society.  For this reason, the tale is less about the deeds of King Arthur and his knights; it reflects more Twain's own issues with the social and political institutions, religion, and the development of technology in the late nineteenth century.  Twain's use of satire brings out his own attitudes concerning specific aspects of society.  His depiction of characters illustrates much of his attitude.  For example, King Arthur is portrayed as a character who is somehow oblivious of the needs of his people.  Typically, Arthur is depicted as a rule beloved by his people.  Arthur is more a symbol of monarchy and particularly the way in which monarchs relate to their people.  Twain takes Arthur to task for this attitude through certain illustrative examples.  In one episode, King Arthur and Hank are sold into slavery.  Arthur is shocked to find that the slaveholder does not know who he is, illustrating how he as the monarch has no connection with his people.  In addition, King Arthur finds that his value as a slave is actually less than Hank's value.  Ultimately, Arthur has no value outside of his utility for the slaveowner.  He has no intrinsic value.  Hank also talks to the average people in the society and attempts to get them to rise up against Arthur.  Hank sees how unjustly they are treated by the system; however, the people themselves are complacent and see nothing wrong with their present situation - at least not enough to do anything about it.

When Arthur is defeated in the great battle near the close of the novel, Hank loses his sway with the people when the Church come in and threaten to excommunicate those who do not fall into line.  Clearly, the Church is portrayed as a bully who manipulates its position of power to guarantee the favor of the people.  In terms of moden technology, Hank shows the destructive power of modern technology in his wars with the knights, using guns to dispatch them with relative ease.  The novel is filled with examples of this kind, and they all express Mark Twain's growing dissatisfaction with the society of his own time.   

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