Study Guide

Guinea in The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville


Guinea tugs at our heartstrings when the crowd around him makes the uber-ick decision to try to groupthink through the question of whether or not the guy is faking his injury. Um, hello?

Basically, Guinea can't walk, and he earns money by entertaining the passengers on the ship.

Guinea's the first character whose honesty is called into question, but he's the picture of innocence until this (potentially) shady thing happens. In that way, Guinea and his story set the stage for pretty much the entire debate that follows throughout the novel.

Now, remember that business card the country merchant drops? Well, the next moment, as Guinea accepts money from the country merchant, he snags the card:

Not more grateful for the coin than the kindness, the cripple's face glowed like a polished copper saucepan, and shuffling a pace nigher, with one upstretched hand he received the alms, while, as unconsciously, his one advanced leather stump covered the card. (3, 69)

It's up in the air if this sleight-of-hand is something Guinea does on purpose or if he just happens to lean on it. Here's what we do know, though:

  • When the mob accuses Guinea of faking his injury, he says a guy with a weed in his hat (Weeds) can vouch for him.
  • The country merchant gives Guinea money and then accidentally drops his business card.
  • Guinea is the last person seen with this card.
  • Weeds shows up at the country merchant's door claiming the two are old pals (he knows the country merchant's name and occupation) but that the country merchant just forgot this.
  • The country merchant gives Weeds money after realizing Guinea trusted a man with Weeds's description.

Does Weeds seek out the country merchant because he's in cahoots with Guinea? Did Guinea slip Weeds the country merchant's business card with a tip that he has a soft spot for sob stories?

Something fishy is going on around here. Either that or it's all a coincidence and we just don't have enough faith in people…