In literature, different techniques can be used to tell a story. In the same regard, different techniques can be used to describe technologies used in a story. In the case of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, he constantly describes the technologies of Camelot and new technologies brought by the ‘curious stranger’. The following passage is an example of this:
“We had another large departure on hand, too. This was a telegraph and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were for private service only, as yet, and must be kept private until a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the road, working mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid to put up poles, for they would attract too much inquiry. Ground wires were good enough, in both instances, for my wires were protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect. My men had orders to strike across country, avoiding roads, and establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge.” (Twain, 104).
It is first important to note that at the time this was written (1889), the patents for the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell was only about a decade old (1878-1880). (Invention). This meant that the telephone was a rather ‘high-tech’ device in this time period. This passage was one of many explaining how the ‘curious stranger’ brought nineteenth century civilization to Camelot, but I believe it best shows the techniques in which Twain discusses technology in this book.
When the prospect of telephone lines is being introduced, it is made obvious that this is far above the society’s current technologies and will make Camelot a much better society. Only experts will be allowed to use the telephone and telegraph lines and it would be kept secret from the masses because they would not be able to handle this. Even though Camelot may have been a high standing society in sixth century England, it was uncivilized to him and for civility to occur technologies must be implemented and the masses must be educated. To describe all of these technologies and new industries that were discussed throughout the novel, all of which were relatively ‘cutting edge’ at the time the novel was written, it was directly compared to the ways of an ‘uncivilized’ society.
I believe that Twain is commenting on how all of the advances in technology that occurred in the nineteenth century can easily be taken for granted. The ‘curious stranger’ constantly discussed how to have civilization you must first have the various industries and technologies he introduced to Camelot when he was in a society that was an advanced society in its time period. He could not comprehend a society existing without all of the modern technologies he was accustomed to in Connecticut. By showing this throughout his novel, Twain effectively shows how easy it is to take for granted advancements that had to occur over time that allow for everything that is available in current times.
“Invention of the Telephone” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 16 Jan 2008
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. London: Penguin Books, 1986.