Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Connecticut Yankee in King Cotton's Court

I just finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain. Before reading the book, I knew the basic plot -- a Hartford Yankee from the late 1800's travels back in time to King Arthur's Round Table. I expected lots of time-warp details -- the hero impressing everyone with "modern" inventions like gunpowder, telephones and so forth. There is plenty of that, but most of the last third of the book deals with a more serious subject -- Slavery.

Consider this passage from Chapter 31:
"I had an auxiliary interest which had never paled yet, never lost its novelty for me since I had been in Arthur's kingdom: the behavior -- born of nice and exact subdivisions of caste -- of chance passers-by toward each other. Toward the shaven monk who trudged along with his cowl tilted back and the sweat washing down his fat jowls, the coal-burner was deeply reverent; to the gentleman he was abject; with the small farmer and the free mechanic he was cordial and gossipy; and when a slave passed by with a countenance respectfully lowered, this chap's nose was in the air -- he couldn't even see him. Well, there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce."
Reading this passage, I get the feeling that Twain has traveled, not 1300 years back in time, but a mere 30 years, back to his native Missouri. He seems to remember feeling superior to slaves, like a lot of poor whites did. No doubt, that's what motivated many poor whites to fight to preserve slavery. Even if they didn't benefit financially from the system, at least they were not the lowest of the low.

By all accounts, Twain soured on slavery sooner than most Southerners. It's interesting that he was still meditating on slavery 30 years later and that he was so willing to condemn the human race because of it.

For more on the book, including all the text on-line, see the Yankee Homepage.

1 comment:

directorblue said...

The terrifying thing is that slavery is an ongoing blight. A couple of months ago, I blogged about Thomas Sowell's recent article and the current state of global slavery.