Twain’s use of two stories is what makes “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” more than merely a joke. Mary and Edward Richards are real, sympathetic people—childish, occasionally, but no more so than are most people. Their destruction shows why vanity, lies, and selfish revenge are not funny. In real life, real people are hurt.
Twain uses two other favorite devices, a mysterious stranger and ironic humor, to force the story’s characters to face reality. His stranger in “The Chronicle of Young Satan” says, “For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. . . . Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.” Hadleyburg’s stranger forces the townspeople to admit to, laugh at, and then change their egotistical illusions. Humor also keeps the audience reading and, one hopes, thinking.