Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Role of Strangers in Mark Twain's short stories

The role of strangers in Mark Twain's short stories is one of ill repute.  In the story of  The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County the narrator is looking for information on a person name Reverand Leonidas Smiley in a bar.  He begins talking to a stranger by the name of Simon Wheeler who tells the narrator he knows nothing of the Reverand but he did know of a Jim Smiley.  He tells of a Jim Smiley that was obssesed with gambling and who used to train animals to win bets for him.  He trained a frog to jump higher than any other frog and named him Daniel Webster.  One day he found a stranger willing to take his bet that his frog could jump higher than any other.  The stranger says he would take Smileys bet if only he had a competing frog.  Jim offers to go and find him one, and he does but while he is away the stranger fills Daniel Webster with shotgun buckshot.  When the time comes for the competition Jim loses and the stranger gets away before Smiley figures out he was tricked. It would not be a great leap to say that Wheeler told the narrator this story to hint that he himself was tricking him and not telling him the information he desired.  The strangers in the story were both distrustful.

In The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg the stranger leaves a sack of gold for the man in town that once lent him twenty dollars.  The person must recite the statement he told the poor man after giving him the twenty dollars if he is to recieve the gold. The people who are first left with the money are the Richards.  They tell Mr. Cox who owns the newspaper and give him the instructions for how to recieve the money so he may include it in the newspaper.  All the citizens manage to reasonably conclude that it must have been the late Mr. Goodson who gave the poor man some money since he was the only one capable of making such a large donation. The meetings are held in the town hall and for the next three weeks not a soul in Hadleyburg can come up with the comment.Then the noble nineteen citizens of Hadleysburg all recieve a letter from a man named Stephenson who claims that Mr. Goodson only liked their family and would have wanted the money to be theirs.  Stephenson says that he recalls that night and the comment is "You are far from being a bad man. Go, and reform".  Before the next meeting all ninteen households give the religious figure who is running the meeting a note that says they were the ones who gave the poor man the twenty dollars.  The meeting is held and all but the Richards are found to be distrustful and corrupted after the relgious figure read off the same statement eighteen times.  Their uncorruptable town was now proven to be corrupt.  The stranger in this story was not to be trusted and wanted nothing more than the downfall of the town's pride.

This connects well with the story The E1,000,000 Note because the narrator of the story is given a one million pound note from two strangers.  Although the strangers as Ms. Cooper has already summarized were good in nature and rewarded the narrator with a wife. This is interesting because it is the only story where a stranger has been anything but bad.  It is also the only story that has not taken place in America. Perhaps this has some correlation.


  1. I think that you make an interesting point that there is only one story or Twain's where the stranger isn't bad, and like you said the story didn't take place in the United States. It is a possibility that Twain uses a different country because the US has been known to be greedy and obsessed with having money. It could also be something to note that in all of the stories money has played a major role, especially with the strangers. Money seems to be used as a tool for power of the strangers, i.e. tempting a town with a large sum of money, conning a man out of money, and also strangers giving a man money to prove a bet that the brothers had with each other.

  2. Wow. Great post. I hadn't thought about how all the strangers apart from the one in "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" were all quite evil characters. I also didn't make the connection between the only story that didn't take place in America is the only one where the narrator is actually a good and decent character. I'm guessing that has something to do with Americans being greedy.. I'm not sure, but it definitely made me think differently.

  3. I agree with you both, Jmi and Christina. At the heart of the United States' follies is money. Money makes people greedy, which turns into a drive to obtain power and authority, and ultimately ends with corruption. Money is a trickey trickey thing and in the wrong hands, a tangible object can cause irreparable damage.

    Is hunger for greed and thirst for power an innate human condition?