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On the surface, the people in the town represent a greedy, selfish American society in the 1890s. The conflict is the struggle between individual self-interests and the society in which he lives. The themes of the story tell us how Twain viewed society at the time. The outward appearances of the townspeople belie the reality of their lives. Their lies, vanity, and selfishness hurt others. Hypocrisy and deceit are the town's true nature rather than the honesty and integrity they say they pride themselves on. Twain uses the characters to show that the intrinsic human nature of people is to look out for themselves when faced with difficult situations. People are innately cowards and liars, especially when it comes to "easy" money. The mysterious stranger in the story forces the people to finally face the reality of their egotistical illusions. Twain depicts an American society that purports to foster individuality and liberty, but in reality, limits personal freedoms for the good of society.
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