“Time in Teaching” Part 3: Mark Twain’s Hank Morgan.

A Guest Post by Joseph Torres, Ph.D.

Now that we have described Merlyn’s pedagogical style and aims, we may turn our attention to Twain’s Hank Morgan. Morgan’s journey into the past is, similar to Merlyn’s inverted timeline, a literary device that Twain uses to bring contemporary issues into dialogue with the Arthurian legend. However, instead of bringing White’s pacifist fervor, Morgan brings the ideals of American industrial capitalism and democracy to the court of King Arthur. To see this, observe Morgan’s express desire to “resurrect a dead nation” (Twain 69). He views the nation to be dead because it does not conform to the worldview of his native time and place. His perception prompts him to take on a larger student body than Merlyn sought to educate. While Merlyn focuses on only
one pupil in the person of Arthur, Morgan tries to educate an entire nation. Therefore, while Merlyn’s purpose in educating to Arthur is to find a solution to the problem of war which would remain unsolved even in his native time, Morgan’s purpose in educating the past is to bring the progress of the nineteenth century to Arthur’s sixth-century kingdom.

Now, we may analyze Morgan’s pedagogical approach. When Sandy tells her story upon meeting Morgan, Morgan asks “how many”, “who”, and “where”, but at no point does he ask her “why” (Twain 114). His sole concern is factual, but he does not have her explain the reasoning that she uses to associate certain facts in order to draw out a larger picture. Later, in the episode in which Morgan attempts to explain to Dowley the distinction between buying power and sheer
quantity of pay, Morgan consistently asks fact-based quests rather than attempting to approach the situation from a deeper perspective (Twain 303). Thus, while Merlyn emphasizes a deep understanding of problems before seeking a solution, Morgan emphasizes the bare facts.

Next, observe that Morgan as the Boss organizes a vast array of industries and factories throughout England (Twain 74-6). In addition, Morgan keeps his factories a secret from the kingdom since “the people could not have stood it” (Twain 76). Therefore, Morgan is conscious of the practical difficulties of his project and exercises considerable organizational skills in bringing his plans to fruition.

From what we have seen of Morgan’s pedagogy, Morgan is one of Harootunian and Quinn’s Pragmatists. Pragmatists have great organizational skills and practicality which they use to build structured approaches through which they educate their students (Harootunian 18). As we have seen, Morgan used his extensive organizational skills to train people in various industrial pursuits. In addition, his practicality is in evidence both in the industries he pursues and in the relative caution with which he keeps the factories secret from the kingdom. Therefore, Morgan has the disposition of a Pragmatist.

Moreover, the Pragmatist typically poses “factual questions with simple answers” to help their students arrive at a desired solution (Harootunian 18). Morgan does this not only typically but to the exclusion of all other questioning. This forms another notable distinction between Morgan and Merlyn. Morgan relies exclusively on questions with straightforward answers, but Merlyn requires Arthur to be able to formulate the problem and solution on his own. Thus, Morgan is a clear instance of the Pragmatist.

Failures and Successes

We may now consider the results of Hank Morgan’s attempts at education. Like Merlyn, Morgan’s efforts have a significant failure. As a direct result of Morgan’s reforms, all of the knights in the kingdom as well as the king himself are killed. Furthermore, because he made an enemy of Twain’s Merlin (56), the wizard kills all of Morgan’s students who survive the final battle and puts
Morgan into a deep sleep sending him forward to his native time. Thus, Morgan is never able to see his wife or child again and all of the industry and progress he works for is lost to history. Therefore, unlike Merlyn’s pedagogical techniques, Morgan’s techniques ultimately fail to accomplish any of his goals in the long term.

Author: Elise TC

Fantasy Literature Scholar and Literacy Educator MA: Teachers College Columbia University and Signum University

Leave a Reply