By Jackson Foley, V Form
A Failed Yankee Revolutionary
A revolutionary is someone who, in the name of revolution, sparks or is the center of a revolution that changes a whole society in a new and unique way. Hank Morgan, in Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, tries to stage a coup and win a revolt, but is not a revolutionary. Hank is not successful in the end. His revolt does not gain major public traction. He is just forcing new inventions and ideals on an uninterested medieval society. Also, Hank’s violent acts on the medieval English people are far beyond and unrelated to the name of revolution. This does not describe a revolution.
The definition of a revolutionary in the introduction implies that they are successful. Hank is not successful in modernizing medieval England. Hank slyly climbs to a rank second only to the King through tricks and manipulations. This allows him to implement modern reforms and inventions. Later in the story, Hank goes to France and all his ideas fall apart without him. Hank returns to find that all his inventions are being destroyed and an army under the Catholic Church’s orders is looking for him. He puts up a last stand, where he is knocked out for thirteen hundred years by Merlin. After knocking Hank out, Merlin says, “Ye were conquerors, ye are conquered! Those others are perishing-ye also. Ye shall all die in this place-every one- except him. He sleepith, now-and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am Merlin!” (314). This line signifies that Hank’s efforts have come to an unsuccessful end. Even if we assume that Hank’s modernization was a good thing, he still failed. Would-be revolutionaries do not get respect and are not remembered if they fail. Even if Hank’s ideas about progress are wrong, revolutionaries should achieve their goals. So Hank’s failure proves that he is not a revolutionary.
The previously stated definition of a revolutionary says they are involved in a revolution that changes a whole society. Hank teaches people to build modern machines and tries to “civilize” them. But no one takes up this modernization on their own without Hank getting them to do so. Also, Hank’s inventions are not widely appreciated. The only people Hank affects are a minority that he introduces to modern ideas and has some form of control over. When Hank comes back from France after some time away, his modernization is falling apart. Clarence is telling him about the army building up against Hank. Hank is saying all his modern people, machines, and institutions will protect him. Clarence says, “When those knights come, those establishments will empty themselves and go over to the enemy. Did you think you have educated the superstition out of those people?” (294-295). Hank’s modernization is forced on medieval England. With a stronger force (the Church) fighting it, Hank stands no chance. Hank did not change these people or England. In a time of crisis, they all went back to the way they used to live. After Hank passes out at the end of the book in the cave, the majority of people will still think the same way and live in the same world that they lived in before Hank arrived. Revolutions are broad movements that start with a popular change in a way of thinking. Hank accomplishes none of this. He does not get the support of a majority or affect the general medieval mindset at all. Hank is thrust into an older world and change only occurs because of his direct influence.
The meaning of revolutionary from the introduction states that they have to act in the name of revolution. Revolutions can be violent. Revolutions can require and demand bloodshed. The American Revolution, French Revolution, and the English Civil War were all extremely bloody. Hank does not take any lives through or in the name of his modernization. The only time he kills somebody to save his modernization is during the war at the end. Hank kills many people and still fails to save his modernization that is only supported by a few dozen people. He does, also, senselessly kill scores of people in other situations. An example of this is when King Arthur and Hank come across knights on their journey and Hank kills them with a bomb. After doing this, Hank is thinking, “Yes, it was a neat thing, very neat and pretty to see. It resembled a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi; and during the next fifteen minutes we stood under the steady drizzle of microscopic fragments of knights and hardware and horseflesh” (193). Violence can happen and is understandable in the name of a passionate revolution. But, Hank does a lot of senseless killing. Hank likes to think of himself as better than everyone else in the medieval age. The fact that Hank considers himself superior could contribute to the ease with which he kills medieval “barbarians.” Hank acts in the violent, senseless, cruel manner that, ironically, Twain portrays medieval people in. Revolutions should make the world better in the eyes of the revolutionaries. Hank killing these knights could not be defended as progress of any kind by anybody, including Hank.
Hank is not a revolutionary. He goes about revolutionizing a society in the wrong way and fails. Hank’s “revolution” is not a popular movement (which revolutions are) and he is just introducing his world to an older society. Also, Hank commits numerous violent, unnecessary acts in medieval England that in no way are revolutionary. Hank’s modernization is not a revolution and will end without him there to force it.
Jackson Foley is a V form boarding student from Sea Cliff, N.Y. He is on the cross country, wrestling, and crew teams.