A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court can be seen as looking both backward and forward in Twain’s career. It is a further version of the historical fantasy that he used in The Prince and the Pauper, in which the commonly accepted inhumanities of early Renaissance life were exposed to civilized, liberal ideas which were not to have much support for some centuries to come. It also looks forward to the bleaker, more deeply pessimistic work which was to be so common in the Twain canon in the 1890’s. Some of that savagery had been shown in The Prince and the Pauper, but in this book there is a predominating line of outright cruelty.
Surprisingly enough, Twain’s hero, Hank Morgan, the enlightened nineteenth century man of science and democracy, is not without a tendency to violence; he may be on the right side, but he is no romantic. He does not intrude on the gratuitous cruelty of King Arthur’s world unless he can do so safely, and he is often inclined to use force in ways that would make any nineteenth century reader somewhat cautious about praising him.
This change from the hero or heroes of reasonably romantic character is a mark of the darkening nature of Twain’s artistic sensibility, and it is a long way from the fairly minor misconduct of a Tom Sawyer or a Huck Finn. Hank Morgan may want to civilize a vicious, savage, ignorant populace, but he has in himself disturbing inclinations to what, in the twenty-first century, would be recognized as a fascistic zeal for power, if strongly tempered by his desire to bring an entire civilization out of the Dark Ages and into the nineteenth century in one lifetime.
In Twain’s previous work with the idea of confronting the modern sensibility with the ignorance of the past (which begins with his nonfiction account of Americans on tour in Europe in The Innocents Abroad and continues in The Prince and the Pauper), there was still room for the comic and the satiric to operate, although the latter book had a serious tonality. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,...
(The entire section is 866 words.)