Summary: the Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain

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Everyone has the temptation of greed but when taken too far it can hurt the ones that someone loves. This is what the town of Hadleyburg is about to find out in Mark Twain’s short story, “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”. The nice people of Hadleyburg become filled with greed due to a man’s devious plan. In the short story, a mysterious man goes through a devious way of deriving a plan to corrupt the town of Hadleyburg. In the end, the man ends up winning and the town of Hadleyburg becomes a place of hate and mistrust. The main theme of Mark Twain’s, “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”, is that anyone can be corrupted by greed or revenge even if they have been good their entire lives.

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This short story shows how anybody can be corrupted by greed. The story starts out by showing a small town called Hadleyburg. In the first part of the book the town thinks, “Hadleyburg was sufficient unto itself, and cared not a rap for strangers or their opinions”. This town is a very nice town with very nice people. At the beginning of the book the town’s slogan is, “Lead us not into temptation”, but they will soon see this dramatically change. One day there’s a stranger that comes into the town. He wants to take revenge on the town because he did not like how they treated him. He derived a plan to make the whole town turn against each other. His plan was to give one person money and say it was always for them and then send everyone else in the town a letter saying that it was an accident and the money was actually theirs. The town then descended into chaos and everyone was trying to claim the money. The town’s new slogan after the devious plan of the mysterious man was, “Lead us into temptation”. Multiple people also die at the end of the story due to the stress of the letters. This story shows that even the best and nicest of people can be corrupted by greed.

Most authors’ writing is affected by their lives, and this is the same with Mark Twain’s “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg.” Mark Twain had suffered from depression for most of his life and especially during writing this short story. He wrote many short stories, but “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and the setting aside of Letters from the Earth as Twain’s darkest, in which he descended into despair, suffered bouts of crippling depression, and, according to some, perhaps even teetered on the brink of insanity itself”. His life was very hard with many challenges. It also states that, “Twain was a bitter, irrational, and lonely old man”. His life experiences influenced the way he would write.

In addition, to his life experience of depression he also thought that the Christian and Catholic churches were flawed. The overview explained that, “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg the plot centers around a town that embodies what Twain saw as the fundamental and flawed teachings of the Christian Church”(Overview). “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” follows a town that is nice and just and Twain is showing that greed can destroy anyone no matter how nice or just you are. The “Between Despair and Compassion” reading explains, “Twain variously–and sometimes simultaneously–found humanity to be funny, ridiculous, vicious, disgusting, and damned, but seldom sensible and never stable”. Twain thought that people believing in God was a foolish thing and that by doing that they were all going to be damned. Twain had many terrible experiences during his life and this influenced the way that he wrote. Mark Twain’s life paralleled the life of the stranger in “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”.

Many of the characters in this short story are corrupted by greed or revenge. There were nineteen families that were corrupted by greed in this story. The stranger gave the money to the Richards at first and they thought it was theirs. When they first find out how much it is worth they exclaim, ‘It weighs a hundred and sixty pounds? Why, Mary, it’s for-ty thou-sand dollars–think of it–a whole fortune! Not ten men in this village are worth that much”. After this they want to brag to the rest of the town that they received the money and they would keep it for themselves. The stranger then gave a letter to each family in the town saying that it was actually theirs. The town started to become greedy. They started to feud with each other and they started to claim the money for themselves. Each family then claims their stake in the money and they believe that they have “proof” that it is their money. In the book everybody goes to a man named Rev. B. and they give their letters to him to read and find out whose money it truly is. Rev. B. owes the Richards a debt and he holds their letter back to make it look like they are innocent. Because of this, the rest of the town praised the Richards because they were humble and did not give the card for the claim of the money. At the end of the book the Richards feel guilty and they become sick because of that guilt. They eventually confess that guilt right before they die. The whole town then goes into chaos and everyone is trying to claim the money.

There are many allegories and symbols throughout the book that help us understand the real meaning that Mark Twain needed to get across. The main allegory that Mark Twain is putting into the book is that the town is the Garden of Eden. He is trying to show that the nicest people and the best of towns can get corrupted by sin, greed, and revenge. The stranger is a symbol for the devil. He comes into the town like when the devil came into the garden. He tries to corrupt the town. Both the devil and the stranger succeeded and corrupted humans with greed. The Richards are a symbol for Adam and Eve. Like Adam and Eve they are corrupted by greed and they want more and they are not content with what they already have. They both die in the end because of the sin they have committed. Adam and Eve would have lived forever with God, but because they ate the forbidden fruit, they would eventually die. In the “Last Letters from Earth” it explains, “However, the source of Adam’s and Eve’s flaws is not the variety of human pride that condemns characters from Twain’s earlier works, but their predestined childlike naïveté” . This means that Adam and Eve and the Richards were naive and they were greedy for more power. The money is a symbol of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate and disobeyed God. The money and the fruit destroy the lives of the people that come in contact with it. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, God banned them from the garden and they would eventually die. In the short story, the Richards took the money because of greed and they eventually died because of their greed. In this story, there are many symbols that show how Twain thought about the world and its religions.

The main theme of Mark Twain’s, “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”, is that anyone can be corrupted by greed or revenge even if they had been good their entire life. Mark Twain’s hard and rough life clearly translates to ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’. The town of Hadleyburg was overcome by greed because of a devious plan by an offended stranger. Throughout the story, the people become more and more greedy for the money even if it was not intended for them. The town changed from a nice, just, and honest town to a greedy, lying, and unjust town. Mark Twain’s life consisted of depression and the hate of religion. This correlates to the story and how Mark wanted everyone to see how anyone can be corrupted by greed or revenge. A person at the end of the story said, “It is an honest town once more, and the man will have to rise early that catches it napping again”. 

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