Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as a Dystopian Work
For years, Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” has been primarily viewed as a work of simple satire. Twain, desiring to poke fun at a group of America’s cultural critics, chief among them Matthew Arnold, who claimed that cultural life in the U.S. treaded on shallow soil, takes aim at the venerated institutions of Britain. The author attempts to show that his country’s lack of romanticized social structures, meaning an absence of royalty, the Catholic church, and long-dead knights and princesses, was far from a cultural weakness. Twain explodes the myth around idealized chivalric society and proves it to be no match for the Nineteenth Century man.
The book follows Twain’s protagonist Hank Morgan, a pragmatist and the author’s model of self-made, turn-of-the-century industrialist, through a time travel jump that lands him in Sixth Century England, specifically at the fabled Camelot. Here Hank, through ingenuity and entrepreneurial vigor, quickly ascends to the top of the socio-political structure of King Arthur’s Court. What’s more, Twain takes great pains in ridiculing both the role of the church in England and the ignoble position and lack of intelligence of the ruling royalty. He also pokes fun at the romanticizing of English culture during this period by illustrating the prostrate and dependent nature of the British aristocratic system — a system void of democratic mechanism.
As a work of social satire, the beginning of the novel is fairly successful. At the outset of the work, Twain accomplishes what must have been his original task.
“The opening chapters, the direct attack, the…
…mbolic of American innocence and the Morgan and his machines of destruction as symbols of capitalism and industrialization, the novel becomes not chaotic literary failure, but dystopian science fiction popularized in the Twentieth Century. Where Huxley and others predicted enslavement to technology, Twain asserts that innocence and naivete have no place in and will be wiped out by modern society. His final analysis is that they cannot coexist.
Bellamy, Gladys Carmen. Mark Twain as a Literary Artist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.
DeVoto, Benard. Mark Twain’s America. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1935.
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. New York: P.F. Collier and Son Company, 1889. Wagenknecht, Edward. Mark Twain: The Man and His Work. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1935.