An Author and His Work (A Kid in King Auther's Court)

Research Term Paper

An Author and His Work

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens to John Marshal Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens. He was born on November 30, 1835 in a small city called Florida, Missouri, which had a population of one hundred people. "I increased the population by one percent," he said. "It is more than many of the best men in history could have done for a town…" (Cox, 7) Samuel, however did not live most of his life in Florida, but moved around throughout his life.

His family moved to Hannibal, MO when he was four years old and that was where he went to school. For the reason that there were no public schools in Hannibal at the time, Sam was sent to a private school taught by Mrs. Horr. He had to leave this school at twelve years of age when his father died. There wasn't much money left to support the Clemens after John Clemens died so Sam was forced to be apprenticed to Joseph Ament. Ament owned a print shop and a newspaper called Hannibal Courier. Here was where Sam would cut the last strings connecting him to his childhood and become much of an adult. The apprenticeship led Samuel to fame and fortune in the future and opened his eyes to the world of literature. (Cox, 23)

The death of Samuel's father had a strong effect on him. Although he wasn't very close to John, Sam felt guilt that he hadn't been a better son to his father and promised his mother at the side of John's body not to brake her heart and to be a "better boy." (Cox, 23)

His time spent in Ament's shop was not paid, but he was fed and clothed. He learned to set type and sometimes worked as reporter or assistant editor. Clemens found a great interest in reading during this time and he truly read everything he could get his hands on. He also began enjoying reading a large amount of history.

Being brought up in a family of slaveholders, Clemens experienced a lot of brutality and injustice toward slaves. He was taught that it was completely normal and legal for white men to kill "niggers" over an awkwardly done job and he didn't argue. However, as a little boy, he felt inside that what his father did was wrong and immoral. Many incidents and adventures with slaves that young Sam witnessed wound up in his books decades later.

Clemens left Ament's shop and went to work with Orion, his older brother, in 1851. His brother offered to pay three and a half-dollars a week but money never seemed to be around. Orion owned a newspaper called the Hannibal Journal and he hired both Sam and his younger brother Henry to be typesetters. However, Sam did more than typeset for Orion. He also wrote for the Journal occasionally. Usually he wrote humorous sketches, but sometimes he also wrote satirical stories, local news reports, and poetry.

Samuel first used the pen name Mark Twain for his letters published in the Virginia City, Territorial Enterprise in 1863. Mark Twain is a steamboater's term meaning 2 fathoms or 12 feet of water.

Samuel's childhood was probably where many of his ideas and stories all originated. He used his adventures as a boy in many novels, such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and many others. There was an adventure everyday during his life in Hannibal and his friends were just as mischievous as Sam was.

The novel A Yankee in King Arthur's Court was strongly influenced by Mark Twain's life. It showed the battle that was happening inside Twain between his different feelings for slavery. It also showed Mark's hate towards any sort of authority. (Cox, 169) This was probably provoked by his early days with his slaveholding family. He saw many times as a child what "authority" could do to innocent souls and it stayed in his heart for many decades.

The Civil War broke out in 1861 and Samuel Clemens decided to side with the Confederacy unlike his whole family. He joined a volunteering unit and fought with the Marion Rangers for some time. Most of this time the small unit was retreating and Sam said, "I could have become a [good] soldier myself, if I had waited, I had got part of it learned, I knew more about retreating than the man that invented retreating." (Cox, 49)

During his life, Mark Twain always had some trouble financially. He had had many jobs, but he was often in need of money. When he worked as a pilot on the Mississippi, Twain was receiving no pay for he was an apprentice. During this time, he took a job watching freight piles during the night for some money. He later said "… I can trace the effect of those nights through most of my books in one way and another." (Cox, 41)

After Civil War began, Samuel had to find a new job for all river traffic was halted. His brother, Orion was appointed secretary of the newly created Territory of Nevada and he asked Sam to come along. At first, Samuel was only going to stay in Nevada for three months, but the three months later turned into six years.

In Nevada, Mark tried his luck in getting rich quickly by mining and did not succeed. However, his years there gave him much to write about. His first book was written during his time there and was based on a fellow miner's story. The book was called "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country and Other Sketches."

Throughout Twain's life, there were many deaths in his family. He felt depressed often because of that and each death made him more pessimistic. During his life, he experienced the death of his younger brother Henry, his oldest daughter Susy, his son Langdon, his father John, his other daughter Jean, his wife Olivia, his mother Jane, his friend Charles Dudley Warner, and his brother Orion.

Mark Twain was widely recognized during his life. He was very famous for his lectures, his humor, his criticisms, his novels, and his articles. Twain wasn't just famous in the United States but also in foreign countries like England as well.

During his later years, Twain wrote many angry articles and editorials denouncing government and sometimes Southern beliefs. He received many angry letters during his last years of writing. The deaths of more and more loved ones made him mad and he expressed his emotions through his writing.

After Twain's death however, his books live on and are world famous. He showed the readers many things about themselves and others. Not only are his novels still read but they are also still discussed, criticized, analyzed, and examined repeatedly. His works are so deep that just one look at a novel won't let you in on Twain's reason for writing it. Howells said at Twain's funeral, " … Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature." (Cox, 220)

The events in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court take place in the sixth century during the time of King Arthur. There are knights and ogres, there are princes and princesses, and there are evil magicians and immoral superstitions. In the sixth century, there were no newspapers, no phones, no hygiene, no cameras, and most importantly, no common sense.

However, this all changes when a Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan, is hit in the head by a crowbar and wakes up in the sixth century. He is a man of intellectual skills and he's in deep trouble. Hank is stuck in the age of violence, slavery, and absolute non-sense without any idea of how to deal with the situation.

Hank finds a friend and decides to turn the savage kingdom into a civilization and a republic. He sets up underground factories in fear of the church and sets up secret schools as well. He finds men who he believes to be worthy and sends them to these schools. While trying to keep in command over the kingdom, he is challenged to a battle and has to go out on a voyage to become "worthy" of the challenger. His adventures throughout the voyage are sometimes life threatening, but using modern science, he always manages to survive.

Mark Twain uses satire and irony in describing the beliefs of the common people. He shows how silly their reasoning is using humor. He shows that, while the nation is suffering from hunger and poverty, the people are still loyal to the nobility. The nobility, which makes up five percent of the nation, is eating up all the nations wealth while the other ninety percent of the nation starve. The nation is controlled by the five percent of the population that becomes royalty by birth and doesn't deserve it at all, while the rest of the population have to labor and toil their whole lives and do not get treated fairly.

The plot, of course, is not realistic, but very satisfying to read. It's very funny and at the same time serious. It discusses certain social issues that most people notice but can't say it the right way. Twain makes it exciting to read, but if you look below the skin of the joke, you can notice the point he's trying to make about economics and aristocracy.

When the king goes with Hank to explore his kingdom in disguise, he is captured and sold as a slave. Twain uses this to show that a king is just as good as any slave and that the only thing that separates him from a slave is his title. He says in his book "…there is nothing diviner about a king than there is about a tramp, after all. He is just a cheap and hollow artificiality when you do not know he is a king. But reveal his quality, and dear me it takes your very breath away to look at him."

The major theme of this novel is the authority and aristocracy issue, but there are other small themes hidden under Twain's humor. One such theme is the theme of work. Twain discusses work and pay in this statement "The law of work does seem utterly unfair -- but there it is: … the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash also."

The characters in this book were introduced and described through their actions and through dialogue. The main character, Hank Morgan, was almost absolutely a believable character. Only a couple of his traits wouldn't be very believable. One being that he didn't go crazy as soon as he found out what had happened. If he was a real person, I don't think he would just accept the fact that he was in the sixth century so quickly. I think that his other traits were pretty much acceptable. He had normal human being traits like being panicky and he wasn't all good or all evil. There were parts of him that weren't angel-like. For example, he never just proved somebody wrong; he always had to make the person feel low and defeated.

The other characters, like Sandy and King Arthur, weren't really believable. Compared to what is considered normal now, they were actually not realistic at all. However, the story takes place in the sixth century where the characters would be more realistic than if compared to what is considered normal now. Despite the fact that it was sixth century, I still wouldn't be able to imagine real people being like King Arthur or Sandy. They were stereotypical just like all the knights, Merlin, Clarence, and the other characters.

This novel wasn't biographical at all. It showed Twain's view on certain issues, but it did not describe Twain's life. The only thing that might have been at all autobiographical, was the fact that Hank Morgan didn't fit in with his surroundings and was trying to change everything around him. Maybe Twain felt that he was surrounded by people who couldn't understand him. Maybe he only felt secure with several of his friends just like Hank thought only certain men were "worthy" in the sixth century.

Hank Morgan was finally returned to the nineteenth century after war broke out in Camelot. During that war, nineteenth century science and fifty-four young men stood against all of England's knights and won a flawless victory. Hank was injured and Merlin cast a spell on him that brought him back to nineteenth century.

Twain's purpose in writing this novel was to show the contrast between the sixth and nineteenth centuries and to show the reader that similar problems exist in both these times. He also brought up some very serious social issues in a humorous way.

This novel is truly a work of genius. I enjoyed reading the book a lot. It was exciting and humorous and the plot was really amusing. I especially admired the way Twain wrote the same things that wouldn't be interesting if they weren't written the way they were. The way Twain described how Hank was uncomfortable in the armor was an example of how as simple a matter as that can be written so that it sounds interesting and amusing. The way Twain put humor into sixth century economy when talking to Dowley about wages was also excellent. He showed how ignorant the sixth century men were concerning economy. To them, the higher the wages, the better, and it doesn't matter what the prices are. No matter how hard Hank tried to show that if prices are high, then wages mean nothing, Dowley couldn't understand.

[Just in case...]

Works Cited:

"Clemens, Samuel Langhorne." Webster's American Biographies. Pg. 207

"Clemens, Samuel Langhorne (Mark Twain, pen name)." Biography Online Database. Online. America Online. http://search.biography.com/print_record.pl?id=13667. 6 Feb.1999

Cox, Clinton. Mark Twain: America's Humorist, Dreamer, Prophet. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.

Hunter, Frank O. "Twain, Mark." The World Book Encyclopedia, 1998 ed., Volume 19. Pg. 528-530

Kunitz and Haycraft. "Clemens, Samuel Langhorne." American Authors: 1600-1900. Pg.159- 161

"Mark Twain in Hartford" 28 May, 1995. Online. America Online. www.courant.com/news/special/twain. 6 Feb. 1999

Meltzer, Milton. Mark Twain: A Writer's Life. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985.

Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. New York: Signet Classic

"Twain, Mark." Biography Online Database. Online. America Online. http://search.biography.com/print_record.pl?id=3500. 6 Feb.1999

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