The themes in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court are complex and often contradictory. Originally conceived as a comic contrast of the manners, social customs, and institutions of medieval England with those of the Machine Age, the novel evolves into a bitter attack against all forces of oppression throughout history. Initially, Hank Morgan makes wry comments about knight errantry, ignorance, and superstition, but he soon focuses on the harsh feudal system sustained by severe laws, a callous aristocracy, and an omnipotent church. These forces subjugate and exploit the common people, who have long been conditioned to accept their lot.
Part of the complexity of the novel derives from Hank Morgan’s ambivalence and inconsistent philosophy. While Hank champions progress through technology, he is not above using scientific ingenuity to create showy effects in order to tighten his control over the kingdom. Although he calls Merlin a “cheap old humbug,” he also gains power by sham and trickery in the form of modern “miracles.” Hank dismisses Merlin as “a magician who believed in his own magic,” but Hank is undone by his belief in his technological “magic.”
The effect of training and conditioning is a constant theme and the target of Hank’s contempt. He is ashamed of Sandy, who has been conditioned to believe that pigs can be enchanted princesses. He is horrified when Morgan le Fay casually kills a clumsy servant because law and custom permit it. King Arthur’s training makes him an unfit judge because he always favors the aristocracy in disputes. Likewise, the freeman has been trained to accept...
(The entire section is 678 words.)