Vanity In "The Man That Corrpted Hadleyburg"

Rod Hollimon


For the love of Money,
People will steal from their brothers,
For the love of money,
People will rob their own mothers…
People who don’t have money
Don’t let money change you…

-- The O’Jays


After reading "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," by Mark Twain, the (above) song "For The Love of Money," by the r&b singing group The O’Jays resounded fervently in my head. The song’s ongoing message of the ill affects money can have on a person almost parallels that of Twain’s brilliant story of vanity, greed, revenge, and honesty, or should I say dishonesty. The story displays how much an entire town is willing to forsake in order to obtain that which has been known to destroy families, careers, lives, and in this case, the good name of an entire town – money. Yes money – that age-old evil that causes men to cheat, lie, steal, and even kill to consume its pseudo sense of security and power, is at the very root of the theme of the story, which is: when money is obtained through some evil act or dishonest deed, there is no escaping the moral punishment – even if the acts or deeds are unknown. Mark Twain, in my opinion, does an excellent job in supporting the theme of the story by using characterization to bring out the vanity of the town of Hadleyburg, the revengefulness of the stranger, as well as the greed and dishonesty of the people of Hadleyburg.
Though unconventional, it can be supported that Twain made the town of Hadleyburg a character in the story and equipped it with its own set of flaws and short comings – the biggest being, ironic as it may be, the vanity that came as a result of the town being known as honest and incorruptible. We are first introduced to the fact that the town’s seemingly good reputation had, over the years, taken a bad affect on the attitude of the Town and the way it treats its visitors in the second paragraph of chapter one of the story. The passage that describes it best is as follows: "Hadleyburg had the ill luck to offend a passing stranger – possibly without knowing it, certainly without caring, for Hadleyburg was sufficient unto itself, and cared not a rap for strangers or their opinions." (Perkins 372) Another example of Hadleyburg at its vainest comes at the beginning of chapter two when the news of the gold sack of money reached the news papers and made national headlines. "Hadleyburg village woke up world-celebrated—astonished –happy—vain. Vain beyond imagination." (Perkins 379) Although there are other numerous examples that I can pull from to describe the character of Hadleyburg, none do more to exemplify its character than the following passage: "…this town’s honesty is as rotten as mine is; as rotten as yours. It is a mean town, a hard stingy town, and hasn’t a virtue in the world but this honesty it is so celebrated for and so conceited about…" (Perkins 378)
The next example of characterization used by Twain to support the theme of the story comes through the character of the stranger. Even though the speaker of the story doesn’t reveal much about the stranger, we know that he is a very important character in the work primarily because he sets up the corruption plot of the story. We know little else about his character besides what we find out in the beginning of the story when the town offends him in some way that, for what ever reason, the author chose to leave out of the story. "…Hadleyburg had the ill-luck of offending a passing stranger…it would have been well to make an exception in this one’s case, for he was a bitter man and revengeful." (Perkins 372) While this passage lets us know that the stranger is revengeful and bitter, it leaves us still with little else to go on in terms of his character. We also find out toward the end of the story that the stranger, whose name might have been Howard L. Stephenson, could have been very wealthy; however, we never really find out because the Richards never cash the bank notes. Thus the stranger, for the most