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"THE CONFIDENCE-MAN": THE CON-MAN AS HERO

PAUL BRODTKORB JR.
Studies in the Novel
Vol. 1, No. 4, HERMAN MELVILLE (winter 1969), pp. 421-435
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29531360
Page Count: 15
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"THE CONFIDENCE-MAN": THE CON-MAN AS HERO
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Abstract

One element of the striking modernity that contemporary critics have found in The Confidence-Man is that novel's view of the mutability of character: everywhere it presents character as masquerade" and as role. Since roles necessarily change, consistency and sincerity become self-contradictory ethical absolutes, and versions of hypocrisy, conscious or otherwise, are seen as the normal human condition. From this mode of being follows the ethically deceptive world of the book; but, though satirically presented, the world of the "Wall Street spirit" is not satirically condemned. Rather, it is seen as inevitable, and the most appropriate response to it is not moral outrage but the kind of humorous despairing serenity the book evokes by making the Cosmopolitan its most likeable character and his tricks as playful as they are sinister. (PB)

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