John Wharton Billson
Billson is a Deacon with the nickname "Shadbelly." He is the first of the nineteen claiming ownership of the sack. When Burgess reads his name, the crowd doubts that Billson could have been so generous, shouting: ‘‘Billson! Oh, come, this is too thin! Twenty dollars to a stranger-or anybody-Billson’’; Wilson falsely accuses him of plagiarism.
The letter attached to the sack authorizes Burgess to break the seals of the sack and the enclosed envelope. Unaware that Edward Richards concealed information that could have cleared him of wrongdoing in a previous scandal, Burgess regards Edward as his savior for advising him to leave town. Burgess repays his perceived debt by not announcing Edward's name at the town meeting, which leads everyone to believe that Edward is the only truly honest man in town. After the stranger gives the Richardses the proceeds from the auction, Burgess sends them a note that accounts for his action at the town meeting. On his deathbed, Edward burns Burgess once more, since he confesses that Burgess purposely withheld Edward's name at the town meeting.
Mr. Cox is the printer of the town's newspaper. He is the second person to learn about the gold sack when Edward Richards submits the advertisement to him. Cox dutifully forwards the information to the central office, but...
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Themes and Characters
Twain wrote "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" during a period of hardship and disillusionment. Loss and disillusionment in his own life had caused him to become increasingly cynical about the world and society in general. "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," often thought to be Twain's finest short story, reflects this disillusionment. The central characters in the story, though they are the pillars of their community and attend church every Sunday, turn out to be greedy, deceitful, and easily tempted. Even so, through all of this, Twain still manages to allow readers a muffled, somewhat guilty chuckle here and there.
"The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" has several dominant themes. Among them are weakness in the face of temptation, rationalization of guilt, vanity, and revenge. Twain develops these themes with a compelling and artistic construct of interesting characters, revealing dialogue and an intricate plot.
It is difficult to designate a protagonist or an antagonist in this story. Though readers may sympathize with the stranger, they are not given any specifics about him or the injury done to him by the citizens of Hadleyburg. It is not clear how many of the town's good citizens were involved, or even if their actions warranted such retribution. What is clear is the stranger's depth of resolve and the lengths to which he will go in order to have his revenge on Hadleyburg. Though readers may marvel at the stranger's cleverness and...
(The entire section is 2237 words.)