Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Paper Moon is the comic and ultimately touching tale of Addie Pray’s coming-of-age adventures as assistant to a master confidence man during the Great Depression and her eventual decision to use her skills in a compassionate way. The story, related by an adult Addie, begins shortly after the death of Addie’s mother when she is taken in by Moses “Long Boy” Pray, who may be Addie’s biological father. He is initially more concerned with her potential as an accomplice as he uses her in his schemes to sell personalized Bibles or photographs. Addie soon proves that she is intelligent beyond her years and that she has a natural affinity for their chosen line of work, since her youth and innocent façade disarm victims.

The novel’s structure is episodic, with each section focusing on a different confidence game, but each event illustrates a portion of Addie’s education and reveals aspects of her character. Addie and Long Boy make a brief foray into legitimate business after an appearance by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Long Boy acquires a stack of Roosevelt photographs from a printer, and he and Addie set out to sell the pictures to shopkeepers. Since Roosevelt’s programs to assist the poor are so popular, the pictures sell readily for one dollar to a dollar and a half. The work does not turn as quick a profit as selling a five-to ten-dollar Bible, however, and going store to store soon exhausts the Prays. The incident illustrates Long Boy’s need for the excitement of the con game and his lack of interest in legitimate business. It also explores Roosevelt and Depression era programs; these will trouble Long Boy later. Long Boy next moves to a scheme involving dropped wallets, which relies on the dishonesty and greed of his victims, a theme that will remain important throughout the novel as well.

The first hint of Addie’s sense of compassion, as well as her ability to utilize what she has learned from Long Boy, arrives when they come upon a carnival. It is there that Addie sees a hermaphrodite in the freak show. She observes that the townspeople...

(The entire section is 858 words.)