A Character Analysis of Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Categories: LiteratureMark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court has one of the most startling and disjointed endings that Mark Twain has written, and it has been compared to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in how little the ending has to do with the majority of the plot. From a sometimes comical, occasionally dark jaunt across King Arthur’s Court, the story veers sharply left into genocide. Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court disdains the civilization in which he found himself because of the class structure, religion, and cruelty, all of which are reflective of Mark Twain’s view of his civilization.

Though they both held their societies in contempt, Mark Twain understands the human need for relationships and civilization, resulting in the characters of Clarence and Sandy.

While Mark Twain is famous for his denunciations of civilization, Samuel Clemens delighted in society and his family. The tension between these two beliefs and drives, to be in society and yet loathing so much of it, can be seen in the character of Morgan.

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Morgan’s distaste for the old English civilization is fairly clear from early on in the novel. He is struck by the ignorance and gullibility of the people. “There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fish-hook with; but you didn’t seem to mind that, after a little, because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like that, and, indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled its symmetry – perhaps rendered its existence impossible.

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”(Twain 20). While Morgan sees some symmetry, perhaps even beauty, in the noble court, he is unable to look past their various shortcomings. Morgan is taken aback by the violence and cruelty present in the culture, as seen in his description of courtly jousting, and its audiences.“Those banks of beautiful ladies, shining in their barbaric splendors, would see a knight sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lance-shaft the thickness of your ankle clean through him and the blood spouting, and instead of fainting they would clap their hands and crowd each other for a better view; only sometimes one would dive into her handkerchief, and look ostentatiously broken-hearted, and then you could lay two to one that there was a scandal there somewhere and she was afraid the public hadn’t found it out.”(Twain 46). Horrid violence has been institutionalized, and is so common in fact that women use it as a social event.

Morgan is horrified at the violence in King Arthur’s court, but institutionalized violence is not only in the past. There are clear parallels which can be found in Antebellum Southern culture, such as the practice of forcing slaves to box and fight. John Finnely gave an interview in the 1930s regarding his time as a plantation slave, and he includes a description of what he calls “nigger fighting” (SLAVE NARRATIVES). During the festivals or harvests, general times of merriment, slave masters would match slaves against each other based on size and take bets. The rules allowed punching, kicking, elbowing, kneeing, biting, anything but weapons. The fight was contained in a circle of people, and it seems as if it were not allowed to stop until one of the masters conceded defeat. In the particular bout Finnely is describing, a slave from his plantation, Tom, and another from somewhere else were set at fighting. They fought until Tom fell unconscious, at which point the other climbed on Tom and began to punch till he was weary. He stopped to rest, at which point Tom revived, and set to kicking him in the stomach until he fell unconscious and had seizures, at which point the match was finally called. While there is no way to tell if Mark Twain was familiar with this specific practice, it is no doubt that he was familiar with the sort of cruelty and disregard to human life that could be found throughout the Antebellum South. As he said in his essay, “The Lowest Animal”, “Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”(Twain 226).

Morgan and Mark Twain see the cruelty in their cultures as stemming from two distinct groups of people: those in the upper classes, who inflict the circumstances of the institution and benefit from it, and those in the middle class, who sit by and defend the upper class’s subjugation of the lower class. The class structure in 6h century England consisted of the nobility, the middle class and the peasants, and the slaves. Morgan finds it alarming, “the alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their cruel hands against their own class in the interest of the common oppressor. This man and woman seemed to feel that in a quarrel between a person of their own class and his lord, it was the natural and proper and rightful thing for that poor devil’s whole caste to side with the master and fight his battle for him, without ever stopping to inquire into the rights or wrongs of the matter. This man had been out helping to hang his neighbors, and had done his work with zeal, and yet was aware that there was nothing against them but a mere suspicion, with nothing back of it describable as evidence, still neither he nor his wife seemed to see anything horrible about it.”(Twain 171). This quotation is representative of most of that class throughout the novel; the middle class supports the institution that subjugates them. Though the middle class are also oppressed, they have it better than the slaves do, and they know it. This leads them to defend the very institution that oppresses them, because at least it keeps them at a certain level.“This was what slavery could do, in the way of ossifying what one may call the superior lobe of human feeling; for these pilgrims were kindhearted people, and they would not have allowed that man to treat a horse like that.”(Twain 111). Even though in that society they would have been punished horribly for it, Morgan says that those people would not have allowed that man to beat a horse that way. Through conditioning and church doctrine, the middle class is convinced that their society is fair. The church goes to great lengths to enforce this in the time of the novel because the middle class is so large, they could up-end the entire system if they so chose. In fact, this quotation could be taken out of context and placed into a critique on Southern slavery and not been out of place.

Mark Twain’s class structure would be slave-owners, followed by “poor whites” (Twain 172), and followed of course by slaves. One comment on Arthur’s court that could easily be applied to slave-owners occurs on page 19, “As a rule the speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything – I mean in a dog-fightless interval…. It was hard to associate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suffering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.” The concept of the Southern gentleman was one of a man who was loyal to his family, traditional values, and God. While these are all positive aspects, the concept had gained the ideas of cruelty and the stigma of slavery after the Civil War.

While the Southern gentleman had impeccable manners, the fact remained that they were for the most part slave owners who inflicted untold pain and horror onto legions of people. This suffering was covered by a shiny veneer of genteel manners, very similarly to King Arthur’s England. A good indication that Mark Twain kept America in mind when he wrote these critiques is when Morgan is discussing the relationship between serfs and lords in King Arthur’s court, and he says, “that reverence for rank and title, had been in our American blood, too – I know that;” (Twain 43). Morgan is referring to the almost worshipful attitude some peasants hold towards the noble class, and the phenomenon of peasants being almost perversely proud of the rigid class structure and restriction of the favorable positions to those of noble birth. It reminds Morgan, and therefor Mark Twain, of “the “poor whites” of our South who were always despised and frequently insulted, by the slave-lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them.”(Twain 172). Mark Twain himself points out the parallels between his contemporary culture and the culture of King Arthur’s court. No matter the time, the upper class managed to convince the middle class to revel in their oppression.

A major factor in the maintenance of the class structure is, “…that awful power, the Roman Catholic Church. In two or three little centuries it had converted a nation of men to a nation of worms. Before the day of the Church’s supremacy in the world, men were men, and held their heads up, and had a man’s pride and spirit and independence… then the Church came to the front, with an axe to grind; and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat – or a nation; she invented “divine right of kings,” and propped it all around, brick by brick, with the Beautitudes – wrenching them from their good purpose to make them fortify an evil one; she preached (to the commoner,) humility, obedience to superiors, the beauty of self sacrifice; she preached to the commoner,) meekness under insult; preached (still to the commoner, always to the commoner,) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance under oppression;… and taught all the Christian populations of the earth to bow down to them and worship them. Even down to my birth-century that poison was still in the blood of Christendom, …” (Twain 42-43). This quotation again attributes the middle class’s almost worship of the upper class to the church. Mark Twain extends his commentary to all of Christendom, of all ages, rather than just the Roman Catholic Church or ancient England. Class structures are supported and in fact ordained by heaven, according to the church, according to Morgan, according to Mark Twain. The church is set up as the main instrument of oppression, as Morgan remarks upon breakfasting with some serfs.“These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast and their talk with me, were as full of humble reverence for their king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire.”(Twain 66). The middle class buys into and accepts their subjugation as the church preaches that it is good and holy to do so.

In spite of this disdain for the culture in which he lived, Morgan still fell in love with a woman from there, and found some friends, and even a confidante, from amongst those he looks down on. Morgan says near the beginning of the book that Clarence was, “twenty-two now, and  was my head executive, my right hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t turn his hand to.”(Twain 55). While the use of the term “darling’ can be read as slightly condescending and superior, signifying Morgan’s continued opinion of the culture from which Clarence comes and lives, he is also recognizing Clarence’s capability and skill. He found someone he could trust, someone he knew would believe him over superstitions, religion, and the culture against which he set himself. Clarence proves himself again and again throughout the book, and Morgan leans more and more heavily on him in turn. The Yankee trusts that he can delegate to Clarence, and so Clarence ends up overseeing major projects like the telephone line and laying explosives. Clarence is one of the shining examples of humanity in the book, and is a redeeming factor for his age. He overcomes his up-bringing and culture and arrives at a mind-set much more similar to Morgan’s. In the midst of the cruelty and corruption seen in people like Morgan le Fay and King Arthur, there can still be a celebration of relationships and humanity.

Another beacon of humanity in this story is the character of Sandy. Morgan’s initial impression of her is fairly consistent with that of the rest of the nation.“Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn’t prospect these liars for details. It may be that this girl had a fact in her somewhere, but I don’t believe you could have sluiced it out with a hydraulic… she was a perfect ass.”(Twain 56). Similarly to Clarence, she grows in Morgan’s esteem, though she never lets go of her culture the way he does. She stands staunchly by the class system, her superstitions, and the Church. Morgan, lying awake after a long adventure to rescue princesses/pigs with Sandy, wonders over how someone seemingly reasonable and sane like Sandy could stand by the institutions of her time. “My land, the power of training! Of influence! Of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything. I had to put myself in Sandy’s place to realize that she was not a lunatic. Yes, and put her in mine, to demonstrate how easy it is to seem a lunatic to a person who has not been taught as you have been taught.”(Twain 104). Morgan goes on to point out that he would be taken as insane by ancient England if he were to talk about modern technology, and that it’s all a matter of perspective. Though Sandy clings to her culture, Morgan finds another companion in her. In spite of his contempt for the world in which he found himself, human nature urges us to make connections with others, even if that includes aspects we find undesirable.

In the end, though Morgan has found a refuge in the ‘civilization’ he carved out of the culture in 6th c. England and the people he can’t help but like, it is not enough to counter-act the mass of ignorance inherent in the society. It is this tension that leads Morgan to commit mass murder, and thus to his thirteen-hundred year sleep that separated him from the only ones he loved. It comes down to the church and the established civilization versus Morgan and his handful of people backing him up. Morgan seeks to end the church’s rule to ensure the safety of not only himself, as it has been shown he can be adaptable when needed, but the safety of his wife, child, and friends. Morgan is torn between his loathing of society, and his attachment to some of the people in it. This parallels the tension between Clemens, who loved society and people, and Mark Twain, who very often couldn’t stand it. Mark Twain’s view of civilization, based on this novel, is bleak. Morgan believes that through bringing technology to the 6 century, he can improve those people’s lives. While he does marginally improve their lives, Morgan also uses that technology to trick the nation and kill mass amounts of people, not exactly noble ends.

Twain similarly had hope for technology’s potential to help people, and yet all his dealings with technological enterprises, like with the Paige Typesetter.Mark Twain questions that civilization could ever be improved, and arrives at the conclusion that the only way is to exterminate it.

Throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain questions the idea of civilization and the precepts that accompany it. Twain questions the morality and sensibility of civilization, and whether it is fact “civilized”. Twain said, “I have been reading the morning paper. I do it every morning–knowing well that I shall find in it the usual depravities and basenesses and hypocrisies and cruelties that make up civilization, and cause me to put in the rest of the day pleading for the damnation of the human race. I cannot seem to get my prayers answered, yet I do not despair.”(“Mark Twain Quotations”). Mark Twain disdained society and its trappings, but Samuel Clemens delighted in it, and his happiest years were in fact with his family in society. This tension between human connection and the restrictions one must put up with in the name of that connection is a major theme of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Twain attempts to reconcile a belief that civilization is immoral and corrupt with his personal relationships and love of community. “Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities,” (“Mark Twain Quotations”) according to Twain, and this attitude is reflected in Huckleberry Finn. Of having to live with the widow and be “sivilized”, Huck says that the widow was, “dismal regular and decent,” (Twain 5). Regularity and decency are dismal, boring, something to be avoided. Despite this disdain for the trappings of civilization, Twain, and therefor Huck, is aware of the human need for connection. Huck runs away soon after moving in with the widow; he just can’t stand the process of being civilized. He stands resolute in this opinion until Tom Sawyer tells him about the band of robbers he is starting. He agrees to stand the humiliation and restrictions of society in exchange for friendship and financial opportunities. Twain takes the opportunity to crack a little joke here about ‘respectable’ society being made up of robbers, which is probably fairly close to his actual view of the people making up that society. However, those robbers are still necessary. As Huck expresses, he understands the human drive to better their lives, of which there are many opportunities to in society, and to connect with other people, which often requires civilization alongside it. However, not all the people in a society are people you’d care to know, picking and choosing is unfortunately not an aspect of civilization, at least in that time. People bend religion and rules to accommodate the vices they enjoy, while condemning those they don’t indulge in.

A major aspect of contemporary civilized culture in Twain’s time was religion; he found the majority of religious people to be deluding themselves. “I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuff-box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, I says to myself, there ain’t nothing in it.”(Twain 23). There is no practical use in religion so far as Huck can see, and all they’re doing is wasting time. The widow said that praying delivers “spiritual gifts”, which means that Huck must, “help other people, and to do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself.”(Twain 18).

This is more of the delusional hypocrisy that abounds in civilization; it all sounds very nice, but never happens that way in practice. Huck thinks about if it will allow him to survive as he currently does, but doesn’t see any advantage in it for him, and so dismisses it completely. If Huck didn’t look out for himself first, no one would for him. As the whole of society doesn’t operate by that rule, Huck can’t afford to either. Because it is such an absurd standard, like so much of society was at the time, Huck ignores it entirely. The ideals the society held in high esteem were not practically tied to reality.

This delusionary state is further illustrated when Tom leads the gang of robbers on an attack on a Sunday school, convincing himself and his friends that it is in fact a group of exotic Spaniards and A-rabs would be camping there instead. Tom continues to delude himself with the fantasy of an exotic circus by reasoning his way into it with his education. He cites Don Quixote, and the tales of magicians and genies to explain how they only appeared to be a Sunday school, and so uses his sophistication and education to delude himself and others. Though civilization clearly isn’t the answer, neither is necessarily the wild. Pap represents someone who has completely forsaken society, who doesn’t care about human interaction or connection past the money he can reap from it. He is a violent drunkard, and an abusive father, and represents all the ways in which being wild can go wrong. The majority of people seeking freedom in the frontier were closer to Pap than Huck, and the two contrasting views of the wild and civilization leaves Huck looking for a better middle ground.

Huck encounters some kindness on the run, giving the reader an example of the good that can spring from society. Searching for information on the happenings in town, Huck approaches a house dressed as a girl. The woman who answers is Mrs. Loftus, who asks him in and offers him food. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that Huck is a boy, and so takes pains to comfort him, as she believes he is a runaway apprentice. Rather than turning him in, she offers him directions, food, and for him to use her name should he get into trouble later on. This generosity and kindheartedness is an example of the good that can in fact be found in society. Further on in the novel, freedom jumps ahead in Huck’s mind, as the episode with the Granger/Sheperdson feud looms large in his mind. What starts out as another story of generosity quickly evolves into a vivid example of the flip side of kindness. In this case, a petty blood feud led to a boy, Buck, being shot, and this grave consequence of an argument reminds Huck of the corruption of civilization, and makes him glad to be back on the river. Of course, he is not alone in the wild, but has Jim by his side. Jim comes to be Huck’s happy median: he is a slave, and so is not part of ‘civilized society’, and yet provides companionship and support. Huck has the best of both worlds on the river, away from civilization and yet with company. Huck gets ‘lonesome’ when he is on his own on Jackson island, he would not be happy living alone long term. And yet, he can not stomach the people who make up most of society.

While Twain (and Huck) clearly disdains civilization for the most part, living alone isn’t the answer either. Human beings are pack animals, and need social interaction. In some ways, Twain was escaping alongside Huck with Jim, Jim provides a refuge from the storm, so to speak. Jim cares about Huck and they form their own unique sort of family, but without any of the restrictions or “unnecessary necessities” of civilization. Mark Twain cherished his family, and yet resented the society he had to live in in order to keep that family.

Mark Twain uses the characters of Morgan and Huckleberry to express an inner tension. Huckleberry Finn believes society to be cumbersome and hypocritical, and Morgan sees it as ignorant to the point of being harmful. Despite both of these characters disdaining the society they lived in, they still find people from that society that they care about intensely. Huck finds Tom and Jim, while Morgan has Clarence and Sandy. Huck and Morgan are willing to bear through the discomfort of living as part of their respective civilizations for their friends and family.

Mark Twain, similarly to Huck and Morgan, found the church to be a major cause of the problems in civilization. Morgan describes the Catholic Church in Connecticut Yankee, “Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition.”(Twain 149). Morgan saw the Church as being a pivotal force in enforcing the class system in 6th century England, and Huck saw the church as being a major source of the hypocrisy in society. This is not too far in sentiment from Mark Twain’s sentiment in a personal letter, “Nothing agrees with me. If I drink coffee, it gives me dyspepsia; if I drink wine, it gives me the gout; if I go to church, it gives me dysentery.”(“Mark Twain Quotations”).The church is one of Mark Twain’s shooting targets; he clearly has a deep seated loathing for the church which he expresses through most of his characters, including Morgan and Huck. Twain believes the church to be one of the major corrupting influences in civilization.

Though Twain was bitter regarding several failures in ventures in business and investing, his happiest years still occurred in the midst of his money-losing ventures. Twain loved the idea of making money on a brilliant invention, and pursued it time and time again. Twain passes this entrepreneurial nature onto his characters. In addition to the people they care about, Huck and Morgan stand society for the financial opportunities. Huck returns from running away from the widow to join Tom’s band of robbers, an inherently profitable venture. Huck’s interest, however, is mostly based in survival, he has little to no interest in a wealthy lifestyle. Morgan, however, is explicitly interested in capitalism and a comfortable lifestyle. Near the beginning of the book, Morgan describes his job as a supervisor in a factory, setting the stage for his business-laden language. Morgan says things like, “the money’s in the details,” (Twain 66), and his continued focus on how much things cost and how much money he takes in. Twain recognized the potential for incredible success and innovation in the market, but personal experience showed him the possibility for failure inherent in the system as well.

In spite of all of their disdain for their societies, each of these three characters still found powerful attachments and relationships within those civilizations. Morgan found a close confidante and colleague in the character of Clarence and a wife in Sandy. Mark Twain fell in love and spent his happiest years with his family. Like Morgan, Twain endured civilization out of necessity, but found happiness in the people around him. Huck is slightly more interesting, while he does put up with civilization for Tom and the Widow, he is in fact happiest when he is outside of accepted civilization with Jim, someone totally outside of his society. Jim comes to be Huck’s happy median: he is a slave, and so is not part of ‘civilized society’, and yet provides companionship and support.

Twain, as expressed in Huck Finn and Connecticut Yankee, believed civilization to be cumbersome to the point of being harmful. In spite of this, Samuel Clemens needed human connection, and understood the various ways that society benefits a person. He was spiteful towards civilization for the brutality he saw in it, the hypocrisy, and the “unnecessary necessities”. On top of all of this, he was also bitter about his huge failure as a business person.Unsurprisingly, he wrote both of these books during some of his happiest years with his family.Mark Twain found incredible happiness through the human connections he made with those around him, and he understood the need for the support and opportunity that society provides. Mark Twain’s happiest years were with his wife and children, and yet he hated most of the society he had to put up with in order to provide for that family.Mark Twain uses the characters of Morgan and Huckleberry to express the tension between his disdain for the society around him and the human need for connection.

Works Cited

  1. “Mark Twain Quotations.” Mark Twain Quotations – Civilization.N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.
  2. “SLAVE NARRATIVES: “A Folk History of Slavery in the United States, From Interviews with Former Slaves. The Federal Writers’ Project, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2013. <http://memory.loc.gov/mss/mesn/162/162.1.txt>.
  3. Twain, Mark.Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: An Authoritative Text, Contexts and Sources, Criticism.Ed. Thomas Cooley. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.
  4. Twain, Mark, and Allison Ensor. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court : an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, composition and publication, criticism.New York, NY: Norton, 1982. Print.
  5. Twain, Mark.”The Lowest Animal.”Letters from the Earth.Ed. Bernard de Voto. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.222–31.

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A Character Analysis of Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. (2022, Apr 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-character-analysis-of-morgan-in-a-connecticut-yankee-in-king-arthur-s-court-by-mark-twain-essay

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