A Book Summary of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" by Mark Twain

by Danny Djeljosevic

"The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg" is a short story by Mark Twain that takes place in Hadleyburg, a town known for its honesty and virtue, and follows an elaborate plan to turn that honesty on its ear. The story, in four chapters, was published in the short story collection "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories."

Chapter 1

Hadleyburg is the most honorable town in the area, a reputation comes from its townspeople's strict moral upbringing. Babies learn "honest dealing" from birth, and teenagers are kept sheltered from anything that could potentially corrupt them. However, a bitter stranger, offended by the town for unknown reasons, decides to exact revenge on Hadleyburg by corrupting it with an elaborate ruse. The stranger returns to town, leaving a sack of gold and a note promising the sack to the person who gave a gambler $20 and valuable advice. The sack is to be held by Hadleyburg's Reverend Burgess, while people laying claim to the gold are to write down what advice the gambler was given. Burgess is to read the submissions, then open the sack to find a note that describes exactly what the advice was. Anyone who matches that advice gets the gold.

Chapter 2

As word spreads of the situation in Hadleyburg, its residents grow prideful about the national attention. They also begin talking about how to guess the right advice and get the bag of gold. This takes its toll on the community. Soon, routines fall by the wayside in favor of pondering about the correct answer. Soon, every family in town gets an identical, mysterious letter, telling them that the secret advice is "You are far from a bad man: Go, and reform." So each of the town's 19 families submit their answers, sealed in an envelope, to Reverend Burgess.

Chapter 3

The third chapter opens at the Town Hall meeting, where Burgess intends to reveal who wins the gold. Because all 19 families received the same letter, they've submitted the same answer. People begin to argue until Burgess reads the actual advice in the bag: "You are far from a bad man: Go, and reform -- or, mark my words, someday for your sins you will die and go to Hell or Hadleyburg -- try to make it the former." By only containing a part of the quote, all the entries are invalid. Meanwhile, the Richardses' entry is overlooked, and the bag contains another note revealing the grand ruse and the revelation that the gold is actually lead. Hadleyburg residents decide to auction off the lead and give the money to the Richardses, thinking them the only honest people in town since they apparently did not respond with the faux answer. The stranger offers to buy the lead from the Richardses for $40,000, and they accept.

Spoiler: Chapter 4

The stranger gives the Richardses $40,000 in five checks. Feeling a great guilt and wondering if they should burn the checks, the couple receive a letter from Reverend Burgess, saying he intentionally left out their entry -- the same as all the others' -- as gratitude for testifying to Burgess' innocence in a previous matter. However, the Richardses begin to see the letter as being sarcastic; they become troubled by guilt and paranoia. Mr. Richards confesses on his deathbed to several witnesses, including Burgess. As a result of the whole affair, the tarnished town changes its name.