illustrated profile of a man and an armored knight connected by two overlapping circles with a fortress skyline below them

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

by Mark Twain
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How does Mark Twain use satire and iconoclastic humor in the story, specifically in relation to social justice, technology, and the Church?

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Courtby Mark Twain tells the story of a Yankee who finds himself in the the time of King Arthur and, through the use of his wit, as well as knowledge of the way the world has changed, is able to manipulate those around...

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain tells the story of a Yankee who finds himself in the the time of King Arthur and, through the use of his wit, as well as knowledge of the way the world has changed, is able to manipulate those around him. This satirical tale pokes fun at many institutions of Mark Twain's time, with the typical humor that one would expect to find in a work by the noted author.

As regards social justice, there are many examples of Twain poking fun at institutions of the time, most notably slavery. In the novel, the Yankee balks at the concept of slavery as it exists in the time of King Arthur. It is critical to note that Mark Twain wrote during the period in which slavery existed in the American South, and so a Yankee character opposed to slavery is a clear way for Twain to indirectly comment on the notion of slavery as an archaic and damaging institution.

There are a few examples of Twain using satire to discuss technology and technological methods. One key example is the use of gunpowder to create a "miracle" which leads the people of King Arthur's time to think the Yankee a master magician of great power. Twain is clearly poking fun at people's perceptions of technological advancements, as well as their fear of said advancements, in this portion of the story.

As regards religion, it should be stated that miracles and prayer both play a key part in the story, and this is perhaps where Twain's iconoclastic humor becomes evident. The Yankee's miracles are obviously based on his superior knowledge of science and technology and have not arisen because of a special connection to the mystical arts or to God. Therefore, this could be seen as an attack on those who do believe in miracles, a key component of many religions.

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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 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 ruler beloved by his people. This 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 comes in and threatens 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 modern 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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