Study Guide

The Miser in The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville

The Miser

Another character who's 0 for 2 when it comes to doling out the green, the miser is the one who gets his greatest desire—money—and his physical pain preyed upon.

When Tassel (a.k.a. John Thurman) comes lurking in the lower cabins after the country merchant off-handedly mentions seeing the miser, he coaxes the miser into parting with $100 in the hopes of getting a triple return on his investment. Tassel hightails it out of there, leaving the miser in a coughing fit and wailing for a receipt or other proof that he does in fact own whatever stock he just paid for.

This runaway is pretty bleak, so we're pretty surprised when the ailing miser turns up a few chapters later:

The herb-doctor had not moved far away, when, in advance of him, this spectacle met his eye. A dried-up old man, with the stature of a boy of twelve, was tottering about like one out of his mind, in rumpled clothes of old moleskin, showing recent contact with bedding, his ferret eyes, blinking in the sunlight of the snowy boat, as imbecilely eager, and, at intervals, coughing, he peered hither and thither as if in alarmed search for his nurse. He presented the aspect of one who, bed-rid, has, through overruling excitement, like that of a fire, been stimulated to his feet. (20, 1)

This dude was painfully close to death's door, so this re-entry into the main part of the trip is a testament to his grit—when money is involved, at any rate. Anything for the moolah. On the other hand, once the ol' miser's been waylaid by the herb-doctor, it strikes home to us just how vulnerable he is. In the end, all that money has just made the miser a sick old man who's a target for a bunch of circling sharks.

Watch your back, old man.