A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court By Mark Twain Summary and Analysis Chapters 35-38

Summary

The king is upset that the price he brought was only seven dollars, and he complains incessantly. In point of fact, his style of conduct is at odds with his apparent condition, and this discrepancy is responsible for his low price and for the fact that he becomes a difficult slave to sell. Yet, despite even the conditions of his tramping around the country and of being beaten regularly (even the kings body is battered), nothing seems to reduce his spirits.

At one point in their travels, The Boss and the king are caught in a snowstorm, and although the slave master keeps them going to keep warm, they are nearly exhausted. At this point, a woman runs up to them, begging for protection from the pursuing mob, which wants to burn her. The slave master turns her over to them, then he gathers the troops of slaves around the fire to keep them warm and protect his investment.

Finally, they reach London. There, they see a young woman about to be put to death for stealing a small piece of cloth so that she might sell it and thus be able to feed her baby daughter. She has been reduced to these circumstances because her husband had been impressed as a sailor, and she knew nothing about it. Before she is hanged, a priest speaks forcefully about the injustice of the situation, and he promises her that her child will be cared for.

In London, The Boss spots newspaper boys, so he knows that Clarence is working swiftly. He also notices that wires for either the telephone or the telegraph have been strung in the city; thus, he begins making plans to escape. At first, these plans are quite extravagant, particularly in the matter of what he will do to the slave master.

The opportunity for escape arrives when a man comes for a third time to haggle about the price of The Boss. This man's outer garment is fastened in the front with a metal contraption containing a long pin, and as he bargains with the slave master, The Boss manages to loosen one of these clasps. Using this pin as a lock pick, he frees himself. Just as he is about to free the king, however, the slave master comes in. Yet he does not notice anything unusual, and so he leaves. At this point, the king urges The Boss to fetch the slave master back. He dashes out and tackles the figure whom he sees retreating from the building, and a fierce scuffle ensues. This brings the watchmen, and they take the two combatants into custody; only then does The Boss discover that he tackled the wrong man.

When he is taken to court the next morning, The Boss relates a tale about being a slave belonging to Earl Grip, who had been sent into London to fetch a physician when the Earl became suddenly ill; he had been running as fast as he could when he happened to run into this man, who seized him by the throat and began beating him. The Boss is quickly released, and he returns to the slave quarters and finds them all gone. He learns that the slaves had revolted in the night and had killed the slave master. All the slaves have been condemned to die in the next day or so.

The Boss quickly buys some new clothing and arranges a disguise of sorts. Then he finds the telephone office, where he forces the attendant to put in a call to Camelot and to ask for Clarence. After a time, Clarence is reached. They decide that a mighty force of knights will be the best way to handle the situation; Clarence assures him that they will leave in half an hour.

After he leaves the telephone office, The Boss decides to try and make contact with people he knows. However, he is over-confident and walks, literally, into the shackles of the law and is put into prison with the other slaves. There, he learns that they are to be hanged in the middle of that afternoon, before the knights can get from Camelot to London.

About four in the afternoon, the slaves are taken out to be hanged; it is a superb day. The king creates a diversion when he leaps up and proclaims himself to be Arthur, King of Britain. Of course, the crowd does not believe a word he says; instead, they are amused, and they call for him to speak, but he will not.

Three slaves are hanged in short order, and the blindfold is then put on the king. Suddenly, five hundred knights in mail come riding up on bicycles, led by Sir Launcelot. The knights swarm upon the scaffold, tossing the sheriffs and others off, and freeing the king and The Boss. Clarence has also come along, and he explains how he has had the knights drilling for a long time; they have just been waiting for a chance to show off their newly acquired skills.

Analysis

Again in Chapter 35, we are given Twain's double focus. Even though Twain says that only clothes can determine royalty from nobility, yet The Boss is constantly impressed with the spirit and bearing of the king because no amount of slavery or abuse can break his royal spirit.

Even though there is the implication that The Boss could arrange for their freedom, he deliberately chooses to keep the king in slavery until the king realizes the horrors of slavery; then, hopefully, he will, of his own accord, want to abolish it. In addition, even though The Boss is indignant and horrified by the various injustices that he has encountered so far, King Arthur has shown no particular concern for the various injustices and cruelties that they have encountered, and it is not until they are both made slaves that King Arthur personally feels the marks of injustice and vows to abolish at least that social crime from his realm.

Chapter 35 also shows Twain's penchant to sink suddenly into the most maudlin bathos. In this chapter, for example, we witness the burning of a woman at the stake during a snowstorm with her two daughters clinging to her and slaves being forced to gather around her to absorb the warmth from her burning body in order to keep from perishing of the bitter cold; in addition, Twain includes a scene in which a young nursing mother is hanged for stealing a small bit of cloth. The late nineteenth-century reading public, one should remember, was the same public that adored attending melodramas at the theater, but today when we make fun of the typical nineteenth-century "mellerdrammer," we also find such scenes as the above to be almost embarrassingly sentimental. More important, however, in these events, we are not told how the king responds to them, or if they have any effect at all upon him.

In Chapter 36, we see that The Boss could have escaped earlier, but he waited until the king had recanted his position concerning slavery; then The Boss merely uses his Yankee ingenuity to pick the locks, and no one is smart enough to understand how he did it.

In Chapter 37, King Arthur is exposed to the dreadful conditions of English prisons, but we still do not know what effect it has upon him. The change in the time of the death sentence parallels the change in The Boss's death sentence at the beginning of the novel when the eclipse appeared a day earlier. Thus, in terms of plot, we await now to see how Twain handles this change. Actually, Twain's handling of this episode is a type of the cheapest melodrama to be found in first-class literature. In the use of the knights being dressed in armor and riding to the rescue on bicycles, the readers' plausibility is stretched outlandishly, and the entire execution is handled in such a slipshod fashion that it has no place in an otherwise serious book. If one did not know Twain's penchant for the melodramatic atmosphere and for the sentimental effect, one could almost make out a case that he was satirizing works of melodrama, but unfortunately, Twain did not make such fine distinctions.

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