A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court should have offered Mark Twain one of his best opportunities to attack the repressive and antidemocratic forces that he saw in post-Civil War America as well as in sixth century England. That the attack becomes in large part an exposé of the very system he sought to vindicate reveals as much the deep division in the author’s own nature as any problem inherent in the material itself. Ironically, much of the interest the work continues to hold for readers is based on the complications resulting from Twain’s inability to set up a neat conflict between the forces of progress and those of repression. Hank Morgan’s visit to King Arthur’s court not only unveils the greed and superstition associated with the aristocracy and the established Church but also reveals some of the weaknesses in humans that enable oppressive parasitical institutions to exist. The industrial utopia Hank tries to establish in sixth century England is no more than a hopeless dream.
As a character, Hank is, in many respects, a worthy successor to Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck, Hank is representative of the common people and, at his best, he asserts the ideal qualities Twain associates with those who escape the corruption of hereditary wealth and power and the conditioning of tradition. Unlike Huck, however, who is largely an observer powerless to change the system, Hank is given the opportunity to make his values the basis of a...
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