‘‘The Invalid's Story,’’ Mark Twain's raucous story about a case of mistaken identities that eventually kills a man, is considered by many critics to have no literary value. Still, even though some critics have panned the story, it is often reproduced in collections of Twain's stories and others have noted that it is a good example of the frontier-style humor for which Twain was known. The story details the unfortunate misadventures of two men on a train who mistake a gunbox and a piece of rotting cheese for a smelly corpse in a coffin. The two men try many tactics in an attempt to fight the smell of the "corpse," but in the end, all of their efforts are fruitless. The themes range from mortality and the proper behavior towards the dead, to the power of imagination to overcome reason.
It is believed that Twain wrote the story in the 1870s, about a decade after he began what would be an illustrious career. During this time, America's railroads were experiencing their Golden Age, as people relied mainly on trains for both travel and the transportation of everything from coffins to food products. First published in The Stolen White Elephant, Etc. in London in 1882, the story can be found in The Signet Classic Book Of Mark Twain's Short Stories, published in 1985.