Coincidentally, today I was talking to my friend and he told me a funny little story about what happened in his mass communication class. His teacher was going to deliver a PowerPoint presentation about technology, but the computer didn’t work so he did the entire thing on the whiteboard. This is irony in its most applicable, humorous form. For Mark Twain, irony lies directly in Hank’s intimate thoughts; specifically on his view of religion and the church:
“I could have given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian without any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at this best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment whose colour and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and besides, I was afraid of a united Church[…]” (102)
In “Life in the Iron Mills” Hugh was not able rise above the social stratification of his age. Almost parallel to Hugh’s situation Hank was put in a position to gradually eliminate the social stratification present in the 6th century. As a one of the most innovative minds of the 19th century, Hank relishes the opportunity to take the dark age out of the Dark Ages (Ironic). He claims to be a despot there to start advancement not only technologically but socially and educationally. The irony of Hanks view of the church is most clearly seen when juxtaposed to his concept of progression in the chapter “Beginnings of Civilisation”. In the above passage, he implies the problem with the Church is its tendency to constrict or force its specific beliefs unto a nation of people, claiming the “spiritual wants and instincts” of people vary much like individuals vary genotypically and phenotypically. As most despots tend to do, Hank believes his views on social and political reform are the best and most practical and having been “vested with enormous authority” he sets to establish his regime throughout the land inconspicuously. Granted I do agree with his views on social equality, his method of infiltrating the 6th century and slowly but surely instilling these ideas via his “nurseries” is very similar to the Church and its rise to power many centuries prior.
Having established the irony of Hanks views on the Church and his methodology for civilization, it is interesting to note that they both serve their purpose in creating a certain amount of order. Twain acknowledges this point early in the novel (could not find the specific passage) when Hank says what would this nation be without the Church. Now imagine the absence of a unifying force amongst a nation full of men and women that Twain likens to adolescent children. In this sense the Church represents a unification of wills, aiding in the training and “domestication” (for a lack of a better term), instilling docility into a potentially wilder nation than the one that already exists. Examples of the Church’s influence can be found throughout the novel; nobles and people alike praying constantly; and the good nature of the majority of the priest that Hank finds to contradict his ill disposition towards the Church. Through these experiences we find Twain’s objection of the established Church lies in its unilateral imposition of its specific spiritual beliefs amongst the masses. Twain’s solution is to separate politics from the spiritual realm expectant of one of an innovative mind of the 19th century United States.