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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
"A WORD OF EXPLANATION"
On a visit to the Warwick castle, the narrator (Mark Twain) meets a stranger who talks to him about his encounter with medieval characters like Sir Launcelot, Sir Galahad, and the members of the Round Table. This stranger also talks about transmigration of souls and transposition of epochs. However, before the narrator can ask him any questions about his strange claims, the stranger disappears. Back in his room, Twain reads about the adventures of Sir Lancelot in Le Morte d' Arthur. As he finishes, the stranger appears at his door for a visit.
The stranger calls himself an American Yankee from Hartford, Connecticut. He tells the narrator about his many jobs, including blacksmithing (learned from his father), horse doctoring (learned from an uncle), and mechanical skills (learned from a factory job.) This information leads him to tell his life story to the narrator. Because of his ability to invent mechanical objects, he had been promoted to the level of Supervisor in his position. One day, after a fight with an employee, he was knocked unconscious. He awoke to find himself sitting in the grass under an oak tree. An armored man on a horse stopped, and the Yankee asked him if he was from a circus. The two quarreled and the Yankee ended up climbing a tree to escape the knight's lance. After a time, he agreed to come down and ride with the knight toward town.
In the midst of telling this, the Yankee becomes very sleepy. He offers the narrator a written record of his experiences then leaves. The narrator looks at the manuscript, which is yellowed with age and cluttered with words and phrases, some in Latin and he settles in to read.
The choice of narrator is in this case used to frame the novel. It is a strategy often used by authors who want to introduce or commentate on the events before they are recounted, and perhaps interpret the events after they are told. Except for the first and last "chapters", however, the rest of the story takes place in the 6th century time of King Arthur and has very little authorial intrusion or commentary. This narrator identifies himself as Mark Twain, the author, which makes the story at once more personable and more entertaining. Though the reader will not necessarily believe Mark Twain as the story unfolds, often the use of author as narrator lends a certain "true-to-life" quality to the story. In some narratives of this type, the principal character is spoken of but never seen. That is, the narrator tells a story about a man he heard of or once knew. Twain, however, chooses to present the character and even have him speak. The Yankee, Hank Morgan, is a character in both the frame and the body of the story.
An aura of mystery and suspense is created in this introductory chapter. As the narrator goes around the Warwick castle, he notices a hole in an ancient piece of an armor. The stranger, Hank Morgan, recognizes the hole and claims he made it when fighting that particular knight. The curiosity of Twain as well as the reader is aroused and the groundwork for the entire story is laid.
The appearance of the stranger at Twain's door is not unexpected, since the expectation has already been set up that he has quite a story to tell. What is unique about the situation is the fact that he arrives and begins his story, only to become sleepy and leave a manuscript of his tale with the stranger (Mark Twain).
This is the second historical novel written by Twain, the first being The Prince and the Pauper. The first novel was set in the sixteenth century of Henry VIII and Edward Tudor, while A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is set in the sixth-century England of King Arthur. In both novels, Twain juxtaposes the present against the past to compare and contrast the time periods and deliver some social commentary. What is interesting in the end is that Twain's social commentary on the bygone era as a time of social inequality and political injustice does little to detract his hero, Hank Morgan, from longing to return to that time. The seeming contradiction of authorial voice and character perspective has often been regarded as the central flaw in this novel.
In terms of characterization, the creation of Hank Morgan is especially fitting in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Since Morgan had worked as a gunsmith, a mechanic, an inventor, and a brawler, he has skills and knowledge that will make him extraordinary in the time of Camelot. Indeed, he will appear to have the powers of a magician, as he claims.
CHAPTER 1 "CAMELOT"
As the stranger accompanies the knight on his mysterious journey, he looks puzzled. The natural landscape of the place is unspoiled and inhabited by fragrant flowers, chirping birds, and buzzing insects. A young girl with poppies in her hair walks by and stares at Hank Morgan.
Hank Morgan knows they are approaching Camelot, but thinks it is an asylum where the insane man in the armor lives, rather than the actual legendary place. When they arrive, the town is buzzing with activity. The people stare at Morgan and exchange curious glances. The knight leads Morgan through crooked alleys with naked children and stray animals in sight, and the sound of military music reaches them. A group of colorfully dressed noblemen rides down the street and Morgan and the Knight follow them toward a huge castle. As soldiers open the gates, a paved courtyard surrounded by magnificent Arthurian structures is revealed.
Twain begins his depiction of 6th century England with images of unspoiled nature and undeveloped civilization. The Yankee from the nineteenth century is dazed by the scenery all around. The countryside consists of natural landscapes undisturbed by the noise and turbulence of industrialization. He meets a charming young girl who looks ethereal, nearly merging with the surroundings. She stares at him, much to his puzzlement. Later, the inhabitants of the city also look at him with wonder. Morgan fails to understand that his refined looks and fashionable clothes are a strange sight to the people of this ancient land. He has not yet figured out that he is in another time and place. Being a hard core realist of the modern age, he is virtually oblivious to the sudden existence of the romantic city of Camelot.
Mark Twain recreates the favorable essence of the age through his descriptive powers. The unspoiled beauty of the countryside is evoked through a colorful presentation of flora and fauna. In contrast, however, the town looks congested and dirty. Unrefined men and uncared for animals move around noisily. Their shabby appearance is contrasted with that of the Knights in shining armor who look "glorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners and rich doublets and horse cloths and gilded spearheads." The repetition of 'and' magnifies the image of the Knights, making the list of their favorable attributes appear to go on and on. In these observations, Twain is laying the groundwork for his later passages of social commentary and criticism.