Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Question #2: Confidence Man

Throughout most of the story, Hank displays himself as a confidence man. In fact, I think it is difficult to find an idea of Hank’s that cannot be described in this way. From the very beginning of the novel, he is able to use his wits to convince his “superiors to release him from captivity and spare his life. Shortly thereafter, he is able to convince the entire population that he is an all powerful being among mere peasants. These are moments in the novel where it is so obvious what Hank is doing that we as readers are intended to take note of it. It is used in this way for our own amusement. (This is, after all, supposed to be an entertaining novel.) Another major example is the passage describing the fountain. We all know that the words that Hank uses to restore the fountain are nothing but gibberish, but the people watching the event are completely astonished.

Hank often takes time to describe how naive the people of the sixth century are. This is not just used to display the absurdity of the dragon stories told by knights; rather it is used in a way to let the readers know that he can get away with anything. This is what Hank relies on to get into power and to stay in complete power. An example is one briefly discussed in class about the 994 workers that need a better deal. He says “it seemed to me that they need a better deal.” This statement is directed only towards the readers. It only “seemed” that they need a better deal but we all know that Hank would never suggest this to the actual workers.

These are things that I think would be expected in a storyline such as this. Hank is thirteen hundred years more advanced than anyone else in the entire world. Put yourself in Hank’s position and I bet that the majority of you would to some degree or another would show characteristics of a confidence man/woman.

Hank also at times will speak in a way that is conning the readers. An example of this is in chapter 13. Hank is using his crafty ways to convince the readers of his reasoning behind changing the political system of the sixth century. He states (at the bottom of page 128) “my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country”, ensuring the readers that his actions are sincere because he is truly loyal. He goes on to say that the Connecticut Constitution declares ‘that all political power is inherent in the people…and they have the right to alter their form of government.’ His reasoning behind changing the political system in the sixth century is that it’s fine because the nineteenth century Constitution says so. (Now I wish that I had been assigned the question on irony.) The people in King Arthur’s time would have not questioned this theory even without knowing what Connecticut meant (or Constitution for that matter). The fact is that he is not speaking to the people in the story. These are Hank’s thoughts and they are intended toward the readers. We are intended to believe that he should be praised for changing their political system.

At this point, we have to look at the big picture. The reason that Hank appears so much as a confident man is that he is single-handedly conning an entire, crucial time period into being something that it’s not, and not ready to be. The irony comes in when you think of this: Ignoring the possibilities for a time paradox, was the entire system that the U.S. is based on created by a con man?

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You do a great job, especially at the very end, of fusing this assignment with some aspects of the irony one (and yes, I'm fully convinced that you would have done well on that one).

Your focus on the Connecticut constitution vs. Hank's actual behavior is perfect: he theoretically believes that the people hold sovereignity, but in actuality holds it himself.

You're taking us into the center of _Twain's_ darkness at the end (because he's so funny, for 100 years most readers have taken him as more upbeat than he is). Is democracy (or democracy-capitalism-protestantism) and/or the American state itself a con?

In Melville's The Confidence-Man, which has much in common with this novel, the answer is "yes." Twain is more two-minded.

Your blog entry is interesting and insightful. It would have been even more interesting and insightful if you had started to answer your own question at the end (from your perspective or from Twain's).