Hank Morgan sees himself as the epitome of democratic principles and is shocked by life in feudal England. Proclaiming himself “the champion of hard unsentimental common sense and reason,” he sets out to reform this society but creates chaos instead.
Taking advantage of an eclipse of the sun, Morgan supplants Merlin as the most powerful force in Arthur’s court. Known as “The Boss,” he sincerely intends to right wrongs by reforming the feudal system, reducing the power of the nobility and the Church, and creating industrial and other technological advances, but his successes blind him to his original goals.
He considers anyone who does not share his view of the world to be his enemy. His insistence upon reducing everything to financial terms causes him to reject the quest for the Holy Grail because there is no money in it. His own quest eventually leads him to employ a flooded moat, electrified fences, and guns to kill 25,000 knights in the name of reform.
The novel makes fun of chivalry and chivalric romances, but Twain is much more interested in addressing various evils associated with industry, technology, business, religion, slavery, war, and the idea of progress itself. Twain frequently interrupts his narrative with didactic asides about these and other matters.
Too often categorized as a children’s classic, this cynical satire is much more than that. It is one of the best explorations of the ambivalent nature of the American character: inventiveness combined with self-destructiveness.
(The entire section is 645 words.)