‘‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ first appeared in Harper's Monthly in December 1899. Harper Brothers publishers reprinted the story in 1900 in the collection The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Sketches. Twain wrote the story in 1898 while he lectured in Europe, and the manuscript, which is held by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, was written almost entirely on the stationery of Metropole Hotel in Vienna. Twain had hoped that a lecture tour would help him recover recent financial losses, which resulted from investing heavily in the unsuccessful Paige typesetting machine. Along with his financial burdens, Twain was depressed after his daughter Susy died, and he also was concerned about the failing health of both his wife Olivia and his youngest daughter Jean, who suffered from epilepsy. Hence, critics often interpret "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg'' in relation to Twain's personal discontent, attributing the story's pessimistic tone and its theme of disillusionment with human nature to his own misfortunes during the 1890s.
Many critics discuss the town of Hadleyburg as a ‘‘microcosm of America,’’ comparing the activities and personalities of the townsfolk to various features of the American character. Whether Twain based Hadleyburg on an actual place or constructed it as a fictional symbol remains unclear, although various American towns have claimed to be the model for Hadleyburg. Critics often debate whether "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg'' represents a story of revenge or of redemption. Some critics emphasize the revenge theme, pointing to the hypocritical characterizations and the deterministic tone of the story. Others analyze "Hadleyburg'' in terms of a revised "Eden" myth, citing the moralistic theme that demonstrates the possibility of salvation. Commentators often identify the mysterious stranger as a Satan figure. Like the Satan of seventeenth-century poet John Milton's Paradise Lost, the stranger leads the town to a ‘‘fortunate fall,’’ but critics disagree whether he is an agent of moral destruction or rejuvenation.