The Confidence Man

by Herman Melville

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

Herman Melville's last novel, The Confidence Man, takes place on April Fools Day. The setting is a steamboat named Fidèle ("faith") floating down the river in Mississippi, picking up passengers en route from St. Louis to New Orleans in the period before the Civil War. The main character is Frank (which suggests that he is the "confidence man" of the title).

At the novel's outset, a disabled man who can't talk begs for charity, but some people suspect he is faking his injury and have no sympathy.

Another character is a man in a suit collecting money for widows and orphans, and he is given money by a widow, ironically. A holistic medicine man also appears, extorting money from gullible people. One burly man, Pitch, calls him out, but Pitch is later conned by someone else. Pitch meets a man named Frank (who might be the devil incarnate). Frank is very persuasive and convinces the barber on board to give him a shave on credit—a decision he will soon regret.

By the end of the novel, Frank and an old man are seen aboard the ship, talking and equating faith in one's fellow man to faith in God. The scene is interrupted by a man selling locks and money belts, which the old man buys, but he wonders whether even his money is fake.

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