Summary and Analysis
Chapter 39-Final P.S. By M. T.
Then, while they wait to see what will happen next, The Boss sends engineers to divert a stream within their lines in a way that it can also be used against their attackers if needed. Then, when nothing more happens for a time, he prepares a message to "the insurgent chivalry of England," offering them their lives if they will surrender and acknowledge the Republic, but Clarence shows him that it cannot be sent to them.
During the night, the knights approached the fortified cave. As the knights crept forward, the electrified wire fries them. In their armor, the knights passed the current along to whomever touched them, so that when the mass attack occurred, all of the men who touched the fences or who touched men who had touched the fences were killed. Still, however, others crept forward, not yet having reached this point. When a large enough number of them were between the ditch and the fences, The Boss ordered the stream diverted into the ditch. The Gatling guns cut down many of the attackers, and the rest were drowned as they try to escape. In all, The Boss estimates that they kill twenty-five thousand of England's knights. He believes that they are now the masters of England.
The Boss proposes that they go out and help the wounded, if possible, and they do so, even though Clarence objects. The first man whom they try to help is Sir Meligraunce; he stabs The Boss, as The Boss leans over to help him. The wound is not serious; however, Merlin slips into the cave in the guise of an old woman and puts a spell on The Boss that will make him sleep for thirteen centuries. Clarence, unfortunately, wakes up in time to see only the end of the spell and cannot stop him. Merlin, however, gloats about what he has done, brushes up against one of the wire fences, and dies. As a last tribute to The Boss, they find a place in the cave where no one can bother his body, and they place this manuscript with it.
Then the original narrator, the one introduced in "A Word of Explanation," finishes reading this manuscript at dawn. He goes to the room of the stranger and finds him delirious, calling out for Sandy and Hello-Central. Gradually, his mutterings become more and more incoherent. As the end nears, he starts up and says, "'A bugle? . . . It is the king! The drawbridge, there! Man the battlements! — turn out the — '"
"He was getting up his last 'effect'; but he never finished it."
Chapter 39 begins The Boss's onslaught on the entire concept of knighthood, and it also reveals his monomania to destroy all of the institutions of Camelot — not just knight-errantry — but the nobility and the Church, as well. Chapter 39 also presents The Boss's attack against the knights. First, he takes the pageantry and makes fun of it by being dressed in tights rather than in armor. Then he rides a small, fast horse with great flexibility instead of using a huge, powerful steed. Instead of attacking, as was the proper form, he subverts the entire system by dodging rather than charging, and by using a lasso rather than a lance. The undignified manner in which he downs Sir Sagramor further shows the absurdity of the entire duel or joust.
After The Boss has made a farce out of the joust by roping several more knights, and after he has been deprived of his lasso, he has to face Sir Sagramor without a weapon, a most unknightly attitude on the part of Sir Sagramor; thus, Twain inserts another undermining of the nobility of knighthood. The scene where The Boss pulls out his recently made pistol and kills Sir Sagramor, then, explains the bullet hole that was in the armor in Warwick Castle in the opening section entitled "A Word of Explanation."
The final blow to knight-errantry lies in the absurd challenge that The Boss makes to all five hundred of the knights. As they charge, and he starts shooting with both guns, we have an absurd, imaginative picture of the Western cowboy firing into the overdressed and plumed knights, and when nine of these men are killed, the others immediately make a cowardly retreat, which reveals the final indignation of knighthood. In short, knighthood is made to seem utterly and absolutely ridiculous. An entire way of life is destroyed:
"The victory is perfect — no other will venture against me — knight-errantry is dead."
Thus, with Chapter 39 and until the end of the novel, the book takes an amazing turn. In Chapter 40, for example, during the lapse of three years, The Boss is well onto his way of destroying the nobility and the Catholic Church and offering in its place democracy and universal suffrage "given to men and women alike."
Then, in Chapters 40 and 41, The Boss discovers that he has been tricked by the Church to take a voyage out of the country, thus allowing the Church to announce the Interdict. The indication, therefore, is that the Church is opposed to the advancement of civilization, and as Twain has pointed out elsewhere, the Catholic Church has often resisted advances in civilization.
Chapter 42 again tests the reader's credulity. In The Boss's absence, so much has happened in that short period that it is impossible to respond to it. The sixth-century aristocracy was made into railroad conductors, the Round Table became a stock exchange, admirable people such as the noble Sir Launcelot, the most noble of the knights of the Round Table, began to manipulate the stock market. Very shortly, jealousy and greed broke out among the knights leading to England's being divided into two warring camps — Arthur's and Launcelot's. The lovely, idyllic Camelot exists no more; instead, the greedy materialistic nineteenth-century America is now rampant throughout the country.
The last stand is made in, ironically, Merlin's cave. Here, the preparations that have been made for warfare again exceed our imaginations. In the chapter entitled "The Battle of the Sand Belt" (Chapter 43), the entire forces of The Boss consist of the fifty-two youths that The Boss has been able to train from childhood. The others that he trained were too old to withstand the superstitions of the Interdict.
Nevertheless, the scientific advancements of the nineteenth century are too powerful for the simple knights of the sixth century. They have no way of withstanding mines, electrified fences, or Gatling guns; consequently, we have a devastation and death of such magnitude that it can only be accounted for by the ingenious inventions of modern weaponry. The peaceful beauty of ancient Camelot has been destroyed by modern, destructive weapons, and at the end of the battle, "twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us." Yankee ingenuity has won over knighthood, and The Boss acknowledges that from his own men "the applause I got was very gratifying to me."
The victory, however, is a Pyrrhic victory. The dead bodies of the 25,000 slain knights form an insurmountable barrier around the cave, and they are trapped inside their magnificent victory. The bodies begin to rot and putrify and in the process, victory begins to poison the victors one by one.
In Chapter 44, it is Clarence, not The Boss, who sums up the predicament: "We had conquered; in turn we were conquered."
This same sentiment is repeated by Merlin: "Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered!" The Boss is put into a deep sleep, and in the final Post Script by Twain, we find Twain (or the original narrator) entering Hank Morgan's room to find him ranting, calling out for his lost land, his wife, and his child. Thus, in the final view, The Boss is defeated not by Merlin, but by the methods of nineteenth-century war, commerce, and destructive weapons. Ironically, in the end, The Boss is more interested in returning to his happy life in the beautiful and idyllic land of innocence that he destroyed than he is in returning to the nineteenth century.