The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg Analysis

Mark Twain

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Old church with steeple, c. 1900, a symbol of the religious character of the people scrutinized in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. Published by Gale Cengage

‘‘The Gilded Age’’
In Twain's lifetime, the America experienced astounding industrial progress and...

(The entire section is 569 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hadleyburg is a small town with a big ego. Over three generations its citizens have cultivated and protected the notion that their community...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Verbal Irony
Commonly and simply referred to as "irony," verbal or rhetorical irony hinges on discrepancies between...

(The entire section is 1029 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Like all of Twain's stories, the characters in "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," are unique, the plot is intricate and carefully crafted,...

(The entire section is 703 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" is Twain's Tartuffe. Like Moliere's 17th century French satire, it is an indictment of those who...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1844: Samuel Morse sends his first message over telegraph.

1876: Alexander Graham Bell invents...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Were the people of Hadleyburg as honest and incorruptible as they claimed? Why do you suppose they believe they were? What did they do to...

(The entire section is 279 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The plot of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" ends pretty much as the stranger had planned it. Rewrite the end of the story in such a...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

As a critique of "community," "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’’ demonstrates the dangerous consequence of a ‘‘herd...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In Twain's later works, his natural sarcasm gradually grows into a general bitterness, disillusionment, and pessimism toward the basic nature...

(The entire section is 309 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Genesis 1-3, The Old Testament contains the story of Adam and Eve, the Original Sin, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden....

(The entire section is 382 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Mark Twain." In Short Story Writers, vol. 3. Pasadena: Salem Press, Inc., 1997: pp. 907-908. Provides helpful insights into many...

(The entire section is 113 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,...

(The entire section is 396 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Burns, Ken, Dayton Duncan, and Geoffrey C. Ward. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Camfield, Gregg. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Emerson, Everett. Mark Twain: A Literary Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American...

(The entire section is 178 words.)