Twain never shies away from violence in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but the death and destruction which takes place during the last few chapters is uncanny. Hank is a man of technology and at the novel’s close, he uses that technology to annihilate 30,000 knights. The fact that Twain was able to publish such a novel in his time is surprising, but perhaps it is Hank’s cursory, newspaper style description of violence that allowed Twain to publish such a work. Hank’s ironic detachment from the death of 30,000 individuals has forced me to reconsider how modern day newspapers cover the war in Iraq.
Before the Battle of the Sand-Belt, there is an essential piece of irony in the preceding chapter, ‘War!’ Hank returns to Camelot only to find that civil war has broken out in the kingdom and that the nobility has been busy fighting against one another. Clarence describes the reasons for the war and the battles that have taken place, but once he arrives to the King’s death, he diverts to the newspaper and reads straight from the lines of the paper. Once he finishes, Hank exclaims:
“That is a good piece of war correspondence, Clarence; you are a first-rate newspaper man. Well – is the king all right? Did he get well?”
Hank first and foremost concerns himself with Clarence’s article, rather than the health of the king. This is a glaring example of how Hank’s primary interest is technology and in this case, he is interested in the development of a new type of newspaper column: war correspondence. Hank compliments Clarence’s piece of war correspondence before inquiring about the emotional issue of the king’s health. This is not surprising because although the column is eloquent and extensive, it is written without emotion, which is the standard for a good newspaper article.
The description of the king’s death is written in a third person narrative in which the narrator gives a play-by-play of events but does not describe the actions in gory detail. This style is again used by Hank when he narrates the violence that takes place during the Battle of the Sand-Belt. While some of the details are a bit gruesome, the overall effect does not make the reader feel as if 30,000 people have just died in the novel. In fact, most of the men die by touching the electric fence as Clarence and Hank lay in the dark, reporting to the reader as the events unfold. It is this effective style which helped Twain’s novel to be published. This narration style allows 30,000 men to be killed in 15 pages of the novel.
It is very possible that Twain intended this irony to comment on the newspaper writing of his time. Twain had just witnessed the Civil War, the most emotionally draining war in the country’s history, as thousands of Americans died at the hands of their brethren. No cursory newspaper write up could effectively communicate the pain and suffering with its detached, third person narrative.
Twain’s writing really made me question how modern day newspapers cover the war in Iraq. Every time I read an article concerning the war, there is a certain emotion evoked from the article of dry facts and slightly slanted viewpoints (the Trib, the Post-Gazette). Either way I do not question one emotion in place of another, but I question my emotional attachment overall. Should I really be feeling any overwhelming emotion from such an article? Can any of these columns really communicate the true emotions of war? Can they really make me, a person who sits over 5,000 miles away, feel what war is? One word that often is used to describe my current generation is “apathetic;” perhaps we are not just apathetic, but detached and not unjustifiably so.