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Free Study Guide for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

MARK TWAIN
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, was born on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri, to John Marshall and Jane Clemens. At the time of his birth, his father was a magistrate and a shopkeeper in Florida. As a father, John Marshall was a strict disciplinarian, while his wife was a compassionate woman with a natural sense of humor. Samuel Langhorne was affectionately called Sam. He had irregular schooling. At the age of twelve, soon after his father's demise, he became an apprentice for Missouri Courier. Later, he started writing interesting features for Hannibal Journal and The Western Union. At seventeen, he wrote a comic story entitled "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter" for Carpet Bag in Boston. The next five years Samuel traveled around America doing odd jobs in printing and composing.

In 1857, Sam got the opportunity to pilot a riverboat to New Orleans. He related this experience in a book called "Life on the Mississippi." When the Civil War began in 1861, he was forced to discontinue his voyage on sea. However, he joined his brother in Nevada and began speculating wildly in the silver mines. Later, he moved to Virginia City and established the newspaper, Territorial Enterprise. As a journalist, he met celebrities like Artemus Ward and wrote a variety of articles. He adopted the pen name Mark Twain on February 3, 1863. Shortly afterward, he wrote the story "Jumping Frog" and a collection of descriptive letters titled Sacramento Union, as well as the book Innocents Abroad. His pen name proved lucky as he quickly shot to fame with his writings.

Sam married Olivia Langdon on February 4, 1869, after a long courtship. The marriage proved successful and fruitful. Shortly afterward, he bought a share in the Buffalo Express and worked for the paper for two years. The years ahead were full of promise. In 1871, he published Roughing It, a writing based on his excursion to Nevada with his brother. He next published Tom Sawyer in 1876. The Prince and the Pauper was published four years later.


Mark Twain established his own printing house in 1885, and printed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a sequel to Tom Sawyer. In 1889, he published the historical fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In the following years, he penned stray writings like The Joan of Arc, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, Sketches New and Old and What is Man.

In 1894, Twain's publishing firm failed and he became bankrupt. His elder daughter died of meningitis, his second daughter developed epilepsy, and his wife became a semi-invalid. Tense and restless, Mark Twain traveled from place to place. Finally, he succumbed to illness on April 20, 1910. With his death, the American literary world lost great humorist and a realist.

LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is regarded as one of the greatest satires of American Literature. Mark Twain wrote this novel in order to expose the ignorance and superstition of the English people and the rigidity of the Roman Catholic Church. In his original preface to the novel, he wrote " My object has been to group together some of the most odious laws which have had vogue in the Christian countries within the past eight or ten centuries, and illustrate them by the incidents of a story." Mark Twain speaks vehemently against the "Divine right of Kings," the Christian orthodoxy, and the cruel laws and customs of the medieval England.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is classified as a historical novel as it throws light on the medieval England of King Arthur and his Round Table. Mark Twain was familiar with the Arthurian Romances, Tennyson's Idylls of the King and Malory's La Morte d' Arthur. In fact, the opening chapter of the novel relates a passage from Malory's book. He borrows heavily from legend and previous literary efforts in his satire.

Though historical in content, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a fantasy in that it relates the autobiography of Hank Morgan supposedly told to the author, Mark Twain-that is, it makes a pretense of non-fiction.

The novel has often been referred to as a 'magnificent failure' because the book fails to make significant moral observations. Mark Twain reveals his confused views in the novel. The protagonist of the story displays contradiction between his thought and action. Hank Morgan, disgusted with the ignorance and superstition of the people, decides to enlighten them with education and technology. However, in order to achieve this purpose, he poses as a great magician who can work miracles, using the people's superstition to his advantage.

Similarly, Morgan condemns the barbaric customs and crude traditions of medieval England that make men beasts and subjects slaves. In the end, it is he who devastates an idyllic country with quiet charm, transforming it into a brutal battlefield, echoing with the sounds of guns and artillery. Finally, after defeating twenty- five thousand knights with his scientific skills, he is at last overpowered by the same magician whom he had proudly vanquished earlier. The last chapter of the novel shows the stranger, on his deathbed, deliriously wishing to go back to the sixth century. Hank Morgan, who had always admired the modern and developed world of the nineteenth century, wishes to go back to the ancient city of Camelot. What an ironic end!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, for all its moralizing and contradictions still satisfies the comic bent of is readers. As Harry R. Warfel rightly avers, "Hank's adventures provoke hearty laughter and keep the story going at high-speed; yet there are frequent homespun satirical observations and shocking incidents that cause the reader to pause thoughtfully, even angrily, and reconsider his own relationship to his fellowmen." Mark Twain has convincingly exposed the evils of medieval society by interestingly weaving a story around it with humor and irony.

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