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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534

Paper Moon is an entertaining work with focal characters who are petty criminals. The novel is both cynical and optimistic in its humorous examination of human nature. Themes of loyalty and integrity are developed. Addie and Long Boy travel a Depression era landscape of corruption where few people are honest....

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Paper Moon is an entertaining work with focal characters who are petty criminals. The novel is both cynical and optimistic in its humorous examination of human nature. Themes of loyalty and integrity are developed. Addie and Long Boy travel a Depression era landscape of corruption where few people are honest. The people whom they cheat are often trying to cheat others.

Yet, while Addie is quite willing to scheme with Long Boy, she ultimately displays a capacity for compassion and a sense of justice. The compassion is developed in part during their dealing with widows who are thrilled that their deceased husbands remembered them with the cheap Bibles that Addie and Long Boy broker.

A degree of Addie’s compassion, however, seems to be inherent. Although Major Lee suggests that Addie has no concept of right and wrong, actually she has a well-developed sense of the two concepts. She is pure not because she is devoid of conscience but because she is capable of exercising her intelligence and her kindness for others. Although she acts partially out of jealousy, Addie reveals Trixie Delight’s true nature to the lovestruck Long Boy. In breaking Trixie’s spell over Long Boy, she also makes it possible for Imogene to escape Trixie’s employment. Addie grows angry when she realizes that cotton buyers are offering Long Boy cheaper rates on the same samples for which they earlier paid more. It is amusing to Long Boy that she is mad about the shoddy practices of people whom they have swindled, but to the reader it is apparent that Addie has a basic goodness.

Never is that goodness more evident than in her dealings with Amelia and Mayflower. Addie is willing to participate in the swindle of Amelia when she believes that she is a greedy penny-pincher, but, when she learns how victimized Amelia has been, she is quick to change her mind. Addie is also able to persuade Major Lee and Long Boy to go along because of the wisdom that she has displayed in other dealings.

Major Lee, in fact, decides that Beau, whom he has known for many years, needs to be taught a lesson. Using the already-wealthy Beau’s lust for what he believes are Amelia’s millions, he is persuaded to do what conventional social responsibility would suggest that he do anyway—take care of his aunt.

Ironically, Addie becomes what she pretended to be: a granddaughter for the aging Amelia, who has paid dearly for mistakes with her daughter. This relationship both connects and sets Addie apart from many other characters who have an outward, misleading façade. Often, the appearance of outward honesty and uprightness is revealed to cover corruption and dishonesty.

Although Addie is a con artist, beneath her exterior she holds values of loyalty and integrity. She is loyal to Long Boy. She loves the unlovely, turns evil back on evil, and reaches out to those who need her. She is one of the most endearing young heroines of modern fiction.

Paper Moon is ultimately an upbeat, comic novel that is relevant for young people as a reflection on a particular historic era and in its presentation of coming-of-age lessons.

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