The sack of fake gold that the stranger brings to Hadleyburg symbolizes how easily people succumb to temptation if they’ve never had to test their integrity. Because the citizens of Hadleyburg are so proud of their morality, they work hard to ensure that their children are never exposed to anything that might corrupt their supposedly honest dispositions. As a result, nobody in town has actually had to confront true temptation, making the residents susceptible to even the slightest enticement. Knowing this, the stranger manipulates the town’s nineteen most well-respected citizens into trying to claim the sack of gold as their own, even though they have no right to collect such a reward. The sack of gold is the first temptation to ever infiltrate the Hadleyburg community, encouraging the Nineteeners to lie, cheat, and conceal their immorality. Unsurprisingly, they all quickly abandon their morals in order to win the gold, proving once and for all that their reputation as honest, morally upright people is just that: a reputation and nothing more.
The Sack of Gold Quotes in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
Very well, what shall we do—make the inquiry private? No, not that; it would spoil the romance. The public method is better. Think what a noise it will make! And it will make all the other towns jealous; for no stranger would trust such a thing to any town but Hadleyburg, and they know it. It’s a great card for us.
Oh, I know it, I know it—it’s been one everlasting training and training and training in honesty—honesty shielded, from the very cradle, against every possible temptation, and so it’s artificial honesty, and weak as water when temptation comes, as we have seen this night. God knows I never had shade nor shadow of a doubt of my petrified and indestructible honesty until now—and now, under the very first big and real temptation, I—Edward, it is my belief that this town’s honesty is as rotten as mine is; as rotten as yours is. 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; and so help me, I do believe that if ever the day comes that its honesty falls under great temptation, its grand reputation will go to ruin like a house of cards. There, now, I’ve made confessions, and I feel better.
At this stage—or at about this stage—a saying like this was dropped at bedtime—with a sigh, usually—by the head of each of the nineteen principal households: “Ah, what could have been the remark that Goodson made?”
And straightaway—with a shudder—came this, from the man’s wife:
“Oh, don’t! What horrible thing are you mulling in your mind? Put it away from you, for God’s sake!”
But that question was wrung from those men again the next night—and got the same retort. But weaker.
And the third night the men uttered the question yet again—with anguish, and absently. This time—and the following night—the wives fidgeted feebly, and tried to say something. But didn’t.
And the night after that they found their tongues and responded—longingly:
“Oh, if we could only guess!”
Had he rendered that service? Well, here was Goodson’s own evidence as reported in Stephenson’s letter; there could be no better evidence than that—it was even proof that he had rendered it. Of course. So that point was settled…. No, not quite. He recalled with a wince that this unknown Mr. Stephenson was just a trifle unsure as to whether the performer of it was Richards or some other—and, oh dear, he had put Richards on his honor!
[…] Further reflection. How did it happen that Richards’s name remained in Stephenson’s mind as indicating the right man, and not some other man’s name? That looked good. Yes, that looked very good. In fact, it went on looking better and better, straight along—until by and by it grew into positive proof. And then Richards put the matter at once out of his mind, for he had a private instinct that a proof once established is better left so.
The house was in a roaring humor now, and ready to get all the fun out of the occasion that might be in it. Several Nineteeners, looking pale and distressed, got up and began to work their way toward the aisles, but a score of shouts went up;
“The doors, the doors—close the doors; no Incorruptible shall leave this place! Sit down, everyone!”