Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story is divided into four parts: first, the introduction of Hadleyburg, the Richardses, and the stranger’s plot to corrupt and disgrace the town; then the description of the Nineteeners’ vanities and greed as they fall for the plot; third, the exposure of the town’s artificial honesty; and finally, the effects of the plot on the Richardses. There are, however, really two stories woven together.
The first is the corruption of Hadleyburg. The town’s motto is “Lead us not into temptation.” Hadleyburg is famed for, and vain about, its reputation for honesty. However, the narrator, presumably Twain, makes it clear that appearances are all that the town really cares about. It is “a mean town, a hard, stingy town.” Eventually Hadleyburg offends a passing stranger, a gambler, who resolves to revenge himself on the town by exposing its artificial virtue. He leaves a sack supposedly containing forty thousand dollars in gold with Mary and Edward Richards, asking them to find an unknown benefactor. This person had given the gambler twenty dollars and advice. Whoever correctly repeats that advice can claim the money.
Edward publishes the stranger’s instructions, the story is picked up by the Associated Press, and the town awakes famous and even more conceited. Everyone believes that the only person in town who would have actually given money to a stranger is Barclay Goodson, the “best hated man among us”—the only person willing...
(The entire section is 851 words.)
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"The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" is about an arrogant and pious town that believes itself immune from corruption. A stranger passing through Hadleyburg is mistreated by its self-righteous citizens. This stranger vows to get even and sets in motion an elaborate scheme that draws the town's leading citizens into a complex hoax that ultimately results in the destruction of Hadleyburg's pristine reputation for honesty.
(The entire section is 64 words.)
An omniscient narrator opens the story with a description of Hadleyburg, U.S.A., as "honest," "upright," and very proud of its "unsmirched" reputation. The town enjoys national renown for protecting every citizen against all temptation from infancy through death. Appropriately, the town motto reads "Lead us not into temptation.'' The tale then segues to the bitter thoughts of an "offended stranger,’’ who has nursed a grudge against the town during the past year for an unnamed, unrequited offense. Rather than murder the one or two individuals responsible, the stranger plots vengeance to "comprehend the entire town, and not let so much as one person escape unhurt.’’
The ‘‘mysterious, big’’ stranger puts his scheme into action when he delivers a sack of gold coins, supposedly worth $40,000, to the home of Mary and Edward Richards, who is a cashier at the Hadleyburg bank. Alone when the sack arrives, Mary panics then notices a note attached to the sack. The note explains that some time ago a financially and morally bankrupt ex-gambler arrived in Hadleyburg, where a citizen gave him twenty dollars and sage advice. Ironically, the stranger amassed a fortune by gambling with those twenty dollars. He now wants to repay his benefactor whose identity can be determined by repeating the words of advice that he spoke so long ago, which are disclosed in a document within a sealed envelope inside the sack. The stranger's...
(The entire section is 1672 words.)