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I appreciate this customary example of Mark Twain's humour and biting satire, whilst at the same time recognising the presentation and critique of serious social issues such as the hanging of the eighteen year old mother and the unjust system of laws that force her to be hung. This novel presents us with an amazing clash of worlds and value systems, and Twain uses this opportunity to unpack a lot of the myths surrounding Arthurian Britain.
I definitely agree that the humor is the best part of this book. If the book weren't humorous, it would actually be sort of unpleasant given how backwards and nasty the setting is.
For example, in Chapter 35, you have the example of the young woman who has been stoned and is now going to be burned at the stake for being a witch. She has two young kids and they're going to get burned too, it appears. This is really horrible and a book that had stuff like that in it without humor would be very unpleasant to read.
But Twain injects humor into it in a way that makes it cartoonish and over-the-top. He has the slave trader encourage the crowd to burn the womand and he makes his slaves warm themselves around the fire. This is so ridiculous that you lose the horror of the situation and it just becomes amusing (again, like a cartoon).
While there is certainly an underlying darkness and a deep seriousness to Mark Twain's novel, A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Twain's inimitable satire and humor is absolutely superb. For instance, after Hank is accepted as the most powerful magician in the land, in Chapter 10 Hank Morgan undertakes reforms to the social system. This action, of course, provides Twain an avenue for his delightful social satire in which Hank writes that he started a teacher-factory and many Sunday-schools immediately with "a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition":
I could have given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian sitout any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law of human nature: spiritual wants and insticts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment who colour and shape and size most nicely accomodate themselves to the spiritual compleion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and besides, I was afraid of a untied Church; it makes a mighty power...and then when it by-and-by get into selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it meant death to human liberty, and paralysis to human thought.
After all, Hank later rationalizes, "Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect government."
Hank Morgan attempts to debunk the medieval myths of such as Sir Gawaine and other "noble knights." Decrying the challenges between two men, Hank complains of the waste of horse flesh and the simplicity of the "archaics." He bemoans the such men of strength "should not have been born at a time when they could put it to some useful purpose":
Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the first place. And yet, once you start a mistake, the trouble is done and you never know what is going to come of it.
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