Discussion: The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
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About the Author
About the Play
About the Themes
Your Reaction
Things to Do

About The Author, Mark Twain

This video production of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is adapted from a short story written by Samuel Langhorne Clemens who is better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. Samuel was born in 1835 into a poor family and grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri.

"Mark Twain" is a piloting term used on the river. It means "mark number two," and refers to the depth of water at which it is safe to maneuver a steamboat. When they were measuring the depth of the water, the boatmen would call out Half twain! Quarter twain! M-a-r-k twain!"
When his father died in 1847, Samuel was eleven years old and was forced to leave school to help support his family. One of his first jobs was as a print typesetter for the newspaper of his brother, Orion. When Samuel was eighteen, he left Hannibal, looking passage on a boat traveling down the Mississippi River. It was his intention to go to South America. Instead, he learned to pilot the boat and ended up working as a commercial boat pilot on the Mississippi River until the outbreak of the Civil War. Samuel was twenty-six at the time and he joined the confederate army. Disillusioned with the life of a soldier, he left after only two weeks and followed his abolitionist brother, Orion, to Nevada. Here, the young man tried his hand at gold mining. He failed in this endeavor, but remained in Nevada. He found work as a writer for a newspaper in Virginia City and adopted the pen name Mark Twain. In the last half of the nineteenth century, it was common for writers to want to disguise their identity if they wrote humorous or satirical pieces, because this type of writing was considered improper or impolite.

Eventually Twain moved to San Francisco where he continued writing. Twain soon became a popular writer of fiction. As a sought-after lecturer, he traveled extensively around the United States and the world. Twain always enjoyed learning and writing about different people, especially those who lived in small towns. During his lifetime, he cruised across the Atlantic Ocean in a steamboat twenty-nine times. He even traveled to India. When traveling, Twain would focus his attention on the people -- how they spoke, what they were like, what he saw that he found funny about their lives. Sometimes he complained about traveling, but when he returned from each trip, he was in better spirits than when he left. He returned with new material for his writing. In 1867, he traveled to Europe and the Middle East. Some humorous accounts of this trip became the basis for his book, Innocents Abroad.

On one of his journeys to Europe, Twain met a man who had brought along a miniature portrait of his sister. The man's sister was Olivia Langdon and Twain immediately fell in love. When his trip to Europe was completed, Twain wasted no time in securing an introduction to Olivia. She eventually became his wife. They built a large house shaped like a steamboat in Hartford, Connecticut and had four children.

Twain wrote numerous books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper and others. In 1900, he published the short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.

While his books show a great sense of humor, Twain himself was not a happy man. He was often depressed. He had much tragedy in his life. Twain's wife and three of his four children died before he did. The famous writer became embittered. His late writings dwelt on man's selfishness and raised questions about the inherent goodness or badness of people. Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, died in 1910.

About The Play

Hadleyburg is a small town which prides itself on its honesty. The town motto is "Lead Us Not Into Temptation." The citizens of the town are very proud of their honest reputation. At the opening of the video, an odd-looking man tells us that Hadleyburg is not the real name of the town. He wants us to know that Hadleyburg is representative of all towns. Perhaps, the viewer might think, the story is even about the town where I live.

The governor is about to present Hadleyburg with the "Most Incorruptible Award." On the same day that the announcement of the impending award is to be made, a mysterious bag of money shows up on the steps of Hadleyburg's city hall. A note attached to the bag states that its contents are to be given to a man from Hadleyburg who once helped a poor stranger who passed through town. According to the note, approximately $40,000 worth of gold is in the bag and it should be given to the man who writes down the correct phrase that he made when he gave $20 to the stranger.

The story then examines the ways that three different couples deal with the temptation to claim the bag of money for themselves. The viewer soon discovers that it's much easier to be honest if you aren't tempted. It is a much more difficult matter to look temptation squarely in the eye and not lose your moral bearings.

About the Themes

The main theme is how we define honesty. Can we claim to be honest if we are never tempted? Even if we go out of our way to avoid temptation, does that mean we are truly honest?

Secondly, Twain seems to be saying that you can't begin to condemn someone for a character flaw, unless you know how you would act in their exact situation. The people of Hadleyburg are hypocritical for claiming to be the most honest people in the state, and in turn implying that other people are not. When the bag of gold shows up, the citizens of Hadleyburg quickly cave into temptation.

Thirdly, the story examines the subject of greed. How much of our honesty and self-respect are we willing to sacrifice for more wealth - or anything else that we greatly desire?

Your Reactions

1. What do you think of the trick the stranger pulled? Was it good that he showed the townspeople that their self-praise was hypocritical, or was he vengeful and mean?

2. Do you agree with Twain that it only takes the right circumstance to show that most people are dishonest, and quite corruptible, at heart?

3. What would you have done if you were a citizen of Hadleyburg and you were tempted by the stranger?

4. Shakespeare tells us, "This above all, to thine own self be true." What does he mean by that? Do you trust yourself in all circumstances?

5. Can a person be dishonest by being passive? In the video, Edward Richards claims the citizens of Hadleyburg are dishonest because of their passivity. When you see wrong being done, but do nothing to stop it, are you condoning the action? Can you think of some incidents in history where people could be considered immoral just because they were passive?

Things to Do

1 . Make a list of things you hope you would never do under any circumstance.

2 . Now, take this list and ask a friend or family member to think of some temptations for each item on the list. Can your friends or family think of big enough temptations to make you cross items off your list?

3 . Mark Twain's house was built in the shape of a steamboat. Draw a picture of what you imagine it must have looked like.

4 . If you had a pseudonym, a pen name or a nom de plume, what would it be?

5 . Read the short story "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg." In what ways is its plot different than that of this video?