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The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is a short story by Mark Twain, who first appeared in 1899. It is a story of a stranger who pays back to a pretentiously n arrogantly righteous town where he was mistreated. Burgess, which is the name of the main character, plays a trick with the citizens of Hadleburg, involving them in lies, thus ruining the virtuous reputation of the town. The critiques interpret the story. Differently, some through the lens of moralism and determinism, others prefer to analyze this work with regard to human nature.
Burgess, the main character of the short story, is a pastor without a congregation. The citizens denounce him of some sin which they believe he committed in the past. The only person who knows Burgess is innocent is Edward Richards, but he is not brave enough to try to prove it to other citizens (Rasmussen 327). The equal character of the story is the imaginary town of Hadleyburg. Its citizens are very proud of their incorruptibility (Rasmussen 328). The location of the town is not clear from the context; thus, it can be anywhere.
Critique on the Story
The story begins similar to a fable but is finished with a moral. It attracts attention to the necessity of some reforms. The story itself is mixed up with what the narrator heard from other people. The researchers often compare the main character of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg to the person that bets against Jim Smiley’s frog in the Jumping Frog Story or No. 44 in No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, which are the mysterious stories by Mark Twain (Rasmussen 322). The mystery of this story is in the unexplained offense that citizens believe Burgess committed, his personality in general, in the image of Goodson Barclay, the reasons why Burgess lost the job. The mentioned above questions are not answered in the story. Some scholars treat Burgess as “a figurative or literal Satan who tempts the town into “falling” (Rasmussen 322). Others believe he is just a person insulted by the people of Hadleyburg. Whoever he is, Burgess is a man with deep psychological insight. He easily predicts the behavior of Hadleyburg. As a pastor, he should be submitted to the highest power. However, his surname “Burgess” indicated that he is a man without obligations “to higher earthly authority” (Rasmussen 322).
The resentment, hate, anger, and hypocrisy in the story are obvious, although never shown directly. The honesty that the citizens are so proud of is superficial. The decent reputation is preserved due to the escape from temptations. The town is not open to strangers to avoid new attractions. Hadleyburg is “hypocritical and proud, lacking charity, pity, and forgiveness, but ever honest” (Rasmussen 322), thus illustrating one of Twain’s aphorisms: “A man may have no bad habits and have worse” (Rasmussen 322).
Berko treats the story as an example of Twain’s technique of “emplacing hoaxes” (91). The author considers Hadleyburg “a nest of hoaxes, one inside the other” (Berkove 91). Berkove analyses the way Twain deals with the problem of evil (Berkove 92). There was a period in his work when he contradicted the theological views and claimed that evil and sin were God’s fault. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg appeared during that period. Honesty which is the pride of the citizens, is stressed at the beginning of the story. It is obvious that the town is doomed to a fall. Proof of it is the passage “throughout the formative year’s temptations were kept out of the way of the young people so that their honesty could have every chance to harden and solidify and become a part of their very bone” (Twain). The town reached its virtue not due to the honesty of the citizens but due to the absence of temptations.
Another aspect that should be regarded about the story is the religious allusions. Rasmussen states that they “may underscore the satanic metaphor, emphasize the God-like power of the corruptor or role of providence, or stress the hypocrisy of supposedly religious people or the hypocrisy of religion itself” (325). The names of outsiders who come to the town are connected to religion: “Goodson (God’s son), Halliday (hallowed day), Nancy (grace), Hewitt (spirit)” (Rasmussen 325). However, the true religious virtues are not accepted in Hadleyburg. The religious terminology is frequent throughout the story. For example, the words like “temptation,” “confession,” “saved,” “sin,” “grace,” and particularly ” together with “soul” and “moral regeneration” address the religious context.
Finally, the town of Hadleyburg lost its reputation as an honest community. It could happen any time with or without Burgess. However, the citizens do not learn the lesson they were taught. The real name of the town is not known; it could be real or imagined. Thus, a similar story of hypocrisy could happen in any small American town (Rasmussen 327).
Personal Reading of the Story
The short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is often printed among the humorous stories by Mark Twain. To my mind, it is not correct. The story does not seem funny, and the author, in this case, is not a humorist or satiric but rather a preacher. He introduces the idea, for example, of the evil nature of bigotry or greed and suggests a life story as if to prove the idea. The characters in such a story are nominal, and the moral is obvious. After reading the critical reviews, I partially agree with the scholars that the town was hopeless. The honesty and seemingly high morals they were so proud of were artificial. “Hadleyburg was the most honest and upright town in all the region and around about. It […] was of it than of any of its other possessions. It was so proud of it, […] that it began to teach the principles of honest dealing to its babies in the cradle” (Twain). The perfect reputation was false since it was achieved through the avoidance of temptations. It appeared to be that pretending to have a virtue was more important than having one. The request of a stranger published in a newspaper revealed the true selfish nature of the citizens and their vanity. They were easy to predict, and Burgess made use of it.
On the whole, Mark Twain’s story is a good example of the fact that every secret will be revealed earlier or later. The false nature of Hadleyburg citizens and their fabricated honesty could not make a truly virtuous community. Pretending something that one is not is a destructive way. A particular feature of the story is that here a town is rather the main character than the people. It unites the features of the inhabitants and is the embodiment of false honesty.
Berkove, Lawrence I. “The Dark Hoaxes of “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.” Mark Twain Journal, Vol. 52, no. 1, 2014, pp. 91-103.
Rasmussen, Kent R. Mark Twain: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Vol. 1, Facts On File, 2007.
Twain, Mark. Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. Chatto & Windus, 1907. Gutenberg eBook, Web.