The Confidence-Man (full title The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade) is Herman Melville's last major novel, a satire published on April 1st, 1857. In it, one mysterious man sneaks onto a Mississippi steamboat. He tests the confidence and doubts of the passengers, while conning money off of them one by one through different masquerades.
The novel is a satirical work, and an allegory for the broader aspects of human nature and human identity. It reflects Herman Melville's views on morality, religion, cynicism, and other philosophical topics. The book's indifferent-to-hostile reception, continuing a trend that had started with Moby-Dick, cause Melville to stop writing novels altogether.
It is also notable for being a book dealing with nihilism and existentialism before other 20th century literature.
The full text can be read here.
Tropes used by the novel:
- Blackface: One of the Confidence-Man's alter egos is an African-American beggar.
- Come to Gawk: Passengers on the boardwalk come to just watch the crippled man from New Guinea.
- Double-Meaning Title: He's a Con Man, and he tests people's confidence.
- The Farmer and the Viper: The bitter old cripple holds this attitude of distrust.
- Fictional Counterparts: Charlie Noble is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne; Mark Winsome is Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the beggar is Edgar Allan Poe.
- In Which a Trope Is Described:"IN WHICH A VARIETY OF CHARACTERS APPEAR";"IN WHICH THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF NATURAL SCENERY IS EVINCED IN THE CASE OF THE MISSOURIAN, WHO, IN VIEW OF THE REGION ROUND-ABOUT CAIRO, HAS A RETURN OF HIS CHILLY FIT.""IN WHICH THE LAST THREE WORDS OF THE LAST CHAPTER ARE MADE THE TEXT OF DISCOURSE, WHICH WILL BE SURE OF RECEIVING MORE OR LESS ATTENTION FROM THOSE READERS WHO DO NOT SKIP IT."
- No Name Given: The Confidence-man has several aliases, but we never find out his true name.
- Post Modern: Considered by some to be one of the first examples.
- Power of Trust: He sees just how much they will trust.
- Satire: Melville satirizes 19th century authors by making characters based on them.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Herman Melville wrote on the side of idealism.
- The Spook: No one knows a thing about his true identity.