The Confidence Man

by Herman Melville

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 179

The Confidence Man: His Masquerade is a novel by Herman Melville. The novel features various characters who represent caricatures of regional stereotypes. The overall theme of the novel is trust, and the polar opposite of trust: deception. From the title, the readers are already aware that the novel will be about deception. After all, that is the job of the titular confidence man, which is where the more modern term "con-man" originates from.

The other theme of the novel is corruption of human beings and of society, and we see this inherent corruption in humanity within the confines of the Fidèle steamboat where the story takes place. There is also a subtle biblical theme to the allegory presented in the book, particularly the Fall of Man in Judeo-Christian tradition. It is said that pride comes before the fall, and the "confidence" man is full of pride and arrogance. Likewise, the other characters in the novel present archetypes that highlight the negative traits of people. One of those traits is greed, which is a recurring theme in the book.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 158

One central theme of Herman Melville’s novel is the prevalence of hypocrisy in American life. Closely related to this is the danger of greed and materialism. The Confidence Man himself is not immune to these vices. Although he ostensibly sets out to reveal the vices of others, he seems caught up in his own deceptions. While he desires power and control more than money, he does not hesitate to relieve people of the burden of their wealth.

Melville’s satirical novel would doubtless have been more immediately meaningful to people of his own time. With his characters, he lampoons people who were often recognizable public figures. He targets some revered intellectuals such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, which suggests a theme related to hypocrisy: the danger of false humility. The far-reaching effects of hypocrisy are shown both in the range of disguises in his “masquerade” and in the variety of people who easily fall victim to his schemes.

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