Hannibal Free Public Library

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Mark Twain

May 7, 2009

A very early story about time travel, Connecticut Yankee was published in 1889 after the publication of Mark Twain’s best-known works, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. 


  1. Although widely recognized as a satire, Twain wrote of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that "the story isn't a satire peculiarly, it is more especially a contrast."   What did Twain mean?  Do you think the story is a satire? 
  1. Do you remember the story for its darker undercurrents, or for its witty invention and storytelling?
  2.   What is Twain’s view of the nobility, of the Catholic Church, and of aristocratic preferment?  How does Twain’s opinion differ or agree with your own?  
  3.  Does Hank Morgan's view of Camelot ultimately soften Twain’s social criticism and make both easier to accept?  
  1. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court can be viewed as a type of utopia in reverse.  Think of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, and other utopias and dystopias you have read.  Compare and contrast them.  What is an ideal world, past or present?
  1. Twain frames Hank Morgan’s time travel by beginning and concluding in the 19th century, the current time of his writing.  Does the use of this literary device, called a “frame,” lend a certain degree of credibility to the story?  What literary devices do other authors of time travel novels use?
  1. How does Hank Morgan use his technological knowledge to gain power?  Does he use his power for the betterment of the people or for the glory of Hank Morgan?  Why does he become more totalitarian as his power and conviction increase?
  1. Consider Alisande, the damsel in distress, and later Hank’s traveling companion, and wife, “ Sandy .’’  Is she typical of Twain’s female characters?  Why or why not?
  1. Twain wrote to the illustrator of the book, "This Yankee of mine . . . is a perfect ignoramus; he is boss of a machine shop, he can build a locomotive or a Colt's revolver, he can put up and run a telegraph line, but he's an ignoramus nevertheless."  Why does Twain hold this opinion of Morgan?  Do you agree with his opinion?
  1. Discuss the rivalry between Merlin and Hank.  Twain's Merlin is an old and worn charlatan, impotent against Hank's science and technology, yet many of Hank’s successes rely on superstition and hoaxes.  Merlin appears to be soundly defeated each time he challenges Hank, but is he really?  What message does Twain have for us today about the magician versus the technocrat?
  1. Consider Twain's penchant for utilizing different sorts of language.  Compare Twain’s use of dialect in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn with his use of archaic language in The Prince and the Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee.  How does Twain’s control of the English language add to our enjoyment of these stories.
  1. Arthurian England had great appeal to the Victorians.  It appealed to Twain, who enjoyed deriding it.  What else drew Twain to his subject matter?  Does Arthurian England have any appeal today?  Give some examples.
  1. After Morgan returns to the nineteenth century, he wants to be allowed to return to "all that is dear . . . all that makes life worth the living."  Is Twain merely showing us a dying man mourning for his former life, or is Twain also offering a comment on our own nostalgia for things past and long ago?
  1. Critics point out the contradiction of Hank Morgan, who seeks to modernize the people of Camelot but in the end, not only fails, but destroys a civilization.  Can Yankee ingenuity and inventiveness ever succeed against a medieval world?  What is Twain saying about the19th century society and its destructive progress?  Does Twain have anything to tell us about progress today?

Resources used in constructing these questions include:  Cliffs Notes by L. David Allen, http://etext.virginia.edu/railton/yankee/cyhompg.html,  and http://www.gradesaver.com/connecticut-yankee-in-king-arthurs-court/study-guide/about/