Study Guide

The Old Man in The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville

The Old Man

We thought the miser was sad and vulnerable until we met this guy. We can even tell you the exact moment he won our hearts:

"'[D]ear me, it must be very late. I must to bed, to bed! Let me see,' rising and looking wistfully all round, first on the stools and settees, and then on the carpet, 'let me see, let me see;—is there anything I have forgot,—forgot? Something I a sort of dimly remember. Something, my son—careful man—told me at starting this morning, this very morning. Something about seeing to—something before I got into my berth. What could it be? Something for safety. Oh, my poor old memory!'" (45, 122)

We just want the old coot to be safe and happy, and we are so bizarrely glad when he remembers that his son told him to find a flotation device. Phew. He's actually not so much an object of pity as he is a fairly kind grandpa type—at first.

Anyway, dude's totally reading the Bible when Frank comes in looking for one. (How often does that happen?) The two have a pleasant chat, and in a pretty interesting turn, it's this old dude who tells Frank that he should keep the faith and have confidence in Providence and mankind.

The catch? This old dude, the very one who was all about having confidence, actually goes on to display his lack of faith when he buys all sorts of locks and wallets from the creepy silent kid. So what's the truth? Is it good to have confidence, or not?

Yeah, Melville's not gonna answer that for you.