Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blog #4, Question 2: Hank, the Man of No Sentiment

As we’ve seen throughout A Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan is what you’d call a confidence man. He’s particularly confident when it comes to describing his trip to the times of King Arthur; he tells everything with the intent of making the reader see the story the way he wants it to be seen. One of the key points Hank makes in the beginning of the story is that he is a man “nearly barren of sentiment…or poetry, in other words.” I believe if Hank is trying to con the reader into a certain belief, it would be this one.

Now, it could be argued that he shows his true poetry in his flowery description of the operator woman. As his sappy language indicates, however, his sentiments towards this woman are hardly worthy of the title, “poetry.” I would say that Hank’s most profound, touching and, therefore, poetic words are uttered in his examination of these so called, “freemen.” Though Hank says he intends to avoid any violent revolution, his infatuation with this bloody process seems to show signs that he is indeed not “barren of sentiment.”

Just for reference, dictionary.com defines sentiment as, “a mental feeling; emotion,” amongst other definitions which all carry the ideas of emotion and feeling in common; and for Hank to say that he lacks such a thing is only natural, as the Yankee—as we are to understand the term, at least—is chiefly a creature of logical and scientific thought.

Moving on to Hank’s passion for this revolution, he states:

“Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood – one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by the slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.”

I would say that this passage not only shows Hank’s sentiment towards (read: against) the nobility through its words but even its style. Hank mentions—on multiple occasions, in fact—that he often grows tired of Sandy’s long-winded, indirect speech; arguably because he prefers the approach of a the Yankee: direct and without exaggeration, i.e., without sentiment—or so he wants us to believe. Yet, he is clearly overtaken by witnessing these “freemen,” and continues in an inspired fashion. On top of that, consider this: in describing the hardships of these freemen (pg. 126), Hank comes up with a sentence consisting of ten semi-colons, a colon and a pair of hyphens (if I counted right). I believe that, here, Twain deliberately alters Hank’s speech to present a side of him that we haven’t seen—the sentimental, passionate side.

Though I could continue with examples of Hank actually displaying his sentiment through his actions (like releasing Morgan le Fay’s prisoners and helping the man being tortured) or his words (like describing the Pilgrims), I would rather focus on a point where, in my opinion, Hank starts to lose his grip on his con.

The point in particular is when Hank declares that, had he the chance, he would build man without a conscience; saying specifically, “If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn’t have any conscience. It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person; and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have less good and more comfort.” In saying this, I see Hank making two mistakes in maintaining his con; the first being that he does, in fact, have a conscience and sentiment, therewith, while the second is that this seems to be a thin guise of Hank acting like the tough, science man. Had he not cared for the conscience to the extent that he describes, then the prisoners of Morgan la Fey would never have seen the light of day; in fact, Morgan la Fey and the others in equal positions of power would be akin to Hank’s man with no conscience, doing as they please for their own comfort and pleasure.

I must admit that I’ve somewhat skewed from the topic, describing rather Hank’s faults in his con than concentrating on the con itself. I believe, however, that, in showing these faults, I did actually manage to expose the con itself.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Fascinating discussion, especially when you articulate the ways in which Hank's passion is manifest in his style. One question you're getting at I'll rephrase as this: "Who is the real Hank? The impassioned revolutionary? The money-grubbing manipulator? Or can we somehow reconcile the two?"

The Hank who wants to rebel against conscience wants man to be, essentially, a human (capitalist?) machine, authentically efficient. The Hank who wants to free the freemen wants people to be citizens in charge of their own destiny.

I could go on and on about this topic - one thing I'll note is that this disjunction between machine and citizen as an ideal could be used to analyze both the U.S. and the Soviet Union (which had many, many engineers in political leadership)...