Posted: October 27th, 2022
Discussion questions – Twain, “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”
Mark Twain wrote this story in 1898, toward the end of his career, and long after publishing his masterpieces Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. However, “Hadleyburg” reflects one concern that interested Twain throughout his entire career: the sarcastic skewering of middle-class morality and mannerisms. We will examine Twain’s critique of the false righteousness and hidden hypocrisies of common, civilized life as an example of Realism.
1. Hadleyburg prides itself on the honesty of its citizens. However, this focus on honesty has allowed other, less moral attitudes to take root and grow among the people. Find 2 passages that reveal at least two different sinful attitudes shared by the citizens of Hadleyburg.
2. The stranger’s plot is perfectly designed to attack the one source of pride of the townspeople. Focus on the scene describing the night the owner of the sack of gold is to be revealed. Explain what Twain to saying about human nature through the behavior of Wilson the lawyer. Find 1 passage that supports your interpretation. (Hint: Does Wilson tell the truth?)
2a. Also, Dr. Harkness ends up buying the sack of (fake) gold. Why does he do this, and what is Twain trying to say about politics and morality through that subplot? Find 1 passage that supports your interpretation. (Hint: Harkness creates a fake story about the gold. Also, why is he desperate to win the election?)
3. The Richardses were spared the humiliation the other nineteen families experienced. They even receive a reward for $38,500! However, their lives end miserably. Their miserable end is related to the one moral weakness that Richards consistently exhibits throughout the story. What is this weakness (it’s not greed) and explain how it causes a terrible ending to the Richardses’ lives. Find 1 passage that reveals this weakness.
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