Study Guide

The Confidence-Man Quotes

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Chapter 1

    To some observers, the singularity, if not lunacy, of the stranger was heightened by his muteness, and, perhaps also, by the contrast to his proceedings afforded in the actions—quite in the wonted and sensible order of things—of the barber of the boat, whose quarters, under a smoking-saloon, and over against a bar-room, was next door but two to the captain's office. (1, 16)

    To the crowd, the mute is not simply foolhardy, he's bonkers. These folks are also not super tolerant of the fact that the dude doesn't speak—regardless of the fact that he's deaf. This moment, when the narrator relates the crowd's ideas about the mute's foolishness, is also as an opportunity to assess the crowd's own folly. They align themselves with the hustle and bustle of the barber, with little sympathy for anyone in the mute's position.

    Chapter 3
    The Man with the Wooden Leg

    "You fools!" cried he with the wooden leg, writhing himself loose and inflamedly turning upon the throng; "you flock of fools, under this captain of fools, in this ship of fools!" (3, 50)

    Don't have to knock us over the head with it, man. The dude with the wooden leg is not happy that people are not on his side against Guinea. More than just an extended insult though, these lines are a nod to Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools, an idea Plato came up with that gets picked up later by thinkers like Michel Foucault. Main message: the world itself is sort of a ship of fools—and ships of fools are usually headed toward a bad end.

    Chapter 15
    The Miser

    "Nay, back, back—receipt, my receipt! Ugh, ugh, ugh! Who are you? What have I done? Where go you? My gold, my gold! Ugh, ugh, ugh!"

    But, unluckily for this final flicker of reason, the stranger was now beyond ear-shot, nor was any one else within hearing of so feeble a call. (15, 51-52)

    Too late, the miser realizes he has slipped up. In his greedy hopes of tripling his money, he lost sight of the fact that he didn't complete any paperwork. This "aha" moment is immediate. Not everyone in the novel comes to such knowledge so quickly.

    Chapter 17

    After eying the rude speaker a moment with an expression of mingled admiration and consternation, the company silently exchanged glances of mutual sympathy under unwelcome conviction. Those who had purchased looked sheepish or ashamed; and a cynical-looking little man, with a thin flaggy beard, and a countenance ever wearing the rudiments of a grin, seated alone in a corner commanding a good view of the scene, held a rusty hat before his face. (17, 35)

    After an angry dad puts the herb-doctor in his place for selling potions and lotions unlikely to actually cure anything, the rest of the crowd sort of gets that shuffling, uneasy feeling when you know you've messed up. Some regret being so silly as to buy the fake medicine. Others who were skeptical throughout the herb-doctor's presentation get a good laugh out of this moment.

    Chapter 18

    "He is not wholly at heart a knave, I fancy, among whose dupes is himself. Did you not see our quack friend apply to himself his own quackery? A fanatic quack; essentially a fool, though effectively a knave." (18, 10)

    Ooooo, this just got interesting. This guy thinks the herb-doctor is a quack who dupes himself as he tricks others. It's unclear if drinking his own Kool-Aid gives the herb-doctor a pass, since he's still functionally a crooked doc, but the point is that if you play with fire, you're gonna get burned yourself in some way.

    "I don't admit it. Or, if I did, I take it back. Shouldn't wonder if, after all, he is no knave at all, or, but little of one. What can you prove against him?"

    "I can prove that he makes dupes." (18, 6-7)

    Hmm…we know you can be duped, but can you make people into dupes? That is the question. These two nameless conversationalists have witnessed the herb-doctor's takedown by the angry dad, and now they're debating whether he's a scoundrel or not. Guy #2 seems to think he is, because he makes people believe his lies. This raises important questions about the blame-game. For Guy #2, you can't blame the victim of a con for being a tool—that's on the con-man for being a crook.

    "I can't conceive how you, in anyway, can hold him a fool. How he talked—so glib, so pat, so well." (18, 12)

    More philosophical musings: if you're a fast-talking dame, does that exclude you from being a silly billy? What is it about being a good speaker that makes it hard to accept that the guy at the podium may be a doof? This guy can't believe someone would think of the herb-doctor as a fool—he's said all the right things, after all.

    "A smart fool always talks well; takes a smart fool to be tonguey."

    In much the same strain the discussion continued—the hook-nosed gentleman talking at large and excellently, with a view of demonstrating that a smart fool always talks just so. Ere long he talked to such purpose as almost to convince. (18, 13-14)

    New character-type alert: the smart fool. What's that? Hmm, well it looks like a smart fool is a special breed of person who takes his brains and uses them to be a good talker. Doesn't mean that person's not going to make all the wrong choices; just means he is going to convince a lot of people to go down with him as he crashes and burns. Meanwhile, the rest of this discussion gets a mild meta-nod from the narrator: the guy advocating that a smart fool is a good talker almost talks dude number two into believing him. We see what you did there, Melville.

    Chapter 23

    He revolves the crafty process of sociable chat, by which, as he fancies, the man with the brass-plate wormed into him, and made such a fool of him as insensibly to persuade him to waive, in his exceptional case, that general law of distrust systematically applied to the race. He revolves, but cannot comprehend, the operation, still less the operator. Was the man a trickster, it must be more for the love than the lucre. Two or three dirty dollars the motive to so many nice wiles? And yet how full of mean needs his seeming. (23, 4)

    Pitch is mulling things over. He realizes the PIO representative is probably just going to run away with his cash. What he doesn't fully grasp is how this happened—he's a resolute cynic, after all. Yeah, well, sometimes folly comes about through nothing more than social chitchat. You're expecting to fight off a con artist, and you fail to see that your friendly companion is conning you. Worse, the con itself is obscured by the very fact that the con-man is a wolf in buddy's clothing.

    Chapter 39

    "I ask? I ask a loan? Frank, by this hand, under no circumstances would I accept a loan, though without asking pressed on me. The experience of China Aster might warn me."

    "And what was that?"

    "Not very unlike the experience of the man that built himself a palace of moon-beams, and when the moon set was surprised that his palace vanished with it. I will tell you about China Aster. (39, 58-60)

    Before Egbert tells the story of China Aster, he prefaces it with his criticism of the foolishness of borrowing funds from a friend. This criticism takes the form of a pretty but disparaging simile of a dreamer whose house is built on moonbeams. Clearly not a solid foundation for your palace, right? The deeper meaning is that if you're going the house-of-sand-and-fog route, you can't be bummed when your world comes crashing down.

  • Poverty

    Chapter 1

    From his betaking himself to this humble quarter, it was evident that, as a deck-passenger, the stranger, simple though he seemed, was not entirely ignorant of his place, though his taking a deck-passage might have been partly for convenience; as, from his having no luggage, it was probable that his destination was one of the small wayside landings within a few hours' sail. But, though he might not have a long way to go, yet he seemed already to have come from a very long distance. (1, 12)

    These lines are a reminder of class differences of those aboard the ship. The mute not only keeps to but "knows" his place. That place is humble and less than comfortable. He's also got no luggage, even though he looks like he's been traveling a long way. He might only be on a short journey now, but he's got the vibe of having a long way to go still.

    Chapter 3

    Thus far not very many pennies had been given him, and, used at last to his strange looks, the less polite passengers of those in that part of the boat began to get their fill of him as a curious object; when suddenly the negro more than revived their first interest by an expedient which, whether by chance or design, was a singular temptation at once to diversion and charity, though, even more than his crippled limbs, it put him on a canine footing. (3, 18)

    Urgh, we're so not cool with Guinea being compared to a dog in this "game." Apparently, he hadn't been making much money up until this point, when somebody decided to start throwing coins into his mouth. Since he can't walk, Guinea has to shuffle around on the floor to catch the coins. This is a dehumanizing move on the part of the passengers. Seriously, bad on them for coming up with this. It seems to add to the divide been those struggling to earn a living and those who throw their pennies away.


    But not to such extremities, or anything like them, did the present crowd come; they, for the time, being content with putting the negro fairly and discreetly to the question; among other things, asking him, had he any documentary proof, any plain paper about him, attesting that his case was not a spurious one.

    "No, no, dis poor ole darkie haint none o' dem waloable papers," he wailed. (3, 24-25)

    Melville tries his hand at regional dialects here and may not actually be too successful. Besides the super not-cool racial representations going on, we get a look at a particularly bleak consequence of extreme poverty: you have to live outside an accepted system or institutions.

    To make him prove that he's not faking his injuries and his homelessness, the crowd asks if Guinea's got any documentation or ID to make his case. Reminder: this text is from 1857—it's not like everyone carries driver's licenses. The only people carrying the kind of documentation these people are looking for would be professionals or business owners. A very poor person straight up would not be dealing with that kind of paperwork.

    This moment is especially icky because we've got a distressed man who cannot walk making money because people thought it'd be hil-ar-ious if they threw coins at him to catch in his mouth like a dog. At this point, this man is being asked—ever so politely now—if he has a doctor's note. Face palm. Talk about missing the forest for the trees when it comes to caring for your fellow man.

    Chapter 6

    "You—pish! Why will the captain suffer these begging fellows on board?"

    These pettish words were breathed by a well-to-do gentleman in a ruby-colored velvet vest, and with a ruby-colored cheek, a ruby-headed cane in his hand, to a man in a gray coat and white tie, who, shortly after the interview last described, had accosted him for contributions to a Widow and Orphan Asylum recently founded among the Seminoles. Upon a cursory view, this last person might have seemed, like the man with the weed, one of the less unrefined children of misfortune; but, on a closer observation, his countenance revealed little of sorrow, though much of sanctity. (6, 1-2)

    No request for alms could go without the requisite hissing of a rich dude who just doesn't wanta Fanta. When the man in the grey-and-white suit asks for a donation to his charity, he gets the old "you're a liar and nobody likes you" treatment. We also get a nice long gander at this wealthy man's ruby garb. He is snazzy. We think there's more going on here than just a fashion show, though; it's almost as if the opulence of the dude's attire is in direct contrast to the needs to the needs of the less fortunate.

    The Man in the Grey and White Suit

    "Ah, well," smiled the other wanly, "if that subtle bane, we were speaking of but just now, is so soon beginning to work, in vain my appeal to you. Good-by."

    "Nay," not untouched, "you do me injustice; instead of indulging present suspicions, I had rather make amends for previous ones. Here is something for your asylum. Not much; but every drop helps. Of course you have papers?"

    "Of course," producing a memorandum book and pencil. "Let me take down name and amount. We publish these names. And now let me give you a little history of our asylum, and the providential way in which it was started." (6, 70-72)

    We're still with the man in the grey-and-white suit. He's just got a clergyman to agree to donate to his charity. Psst: this clergyman has also just said that he feels bad for not believing in Guinea, and he's given Grey-and-white suit some change to give to Guinea the next time he sees him. All of a sudden, the clergyman wants to back out of donating to the charity, and these lines follow.

    Basically Grey-and-white suit's like: Hmmm, are you letting the distrustful tendency in human nature poison you? Well, are you? Hmmm? The clergyman ponies up the cash—but not before he asks about "papers." Hmm, interesting. We're back at the notion that documentation is what determines what's legit. Grey-and-white suit writes his name down in a notebook with a pencil, and this semblance of a connection to an institution seems to be enough to prove that poor people are poor and that Grey-and-white suit is helping them.

    Chapter 29

    "Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the other, pointing to the figure of a pale pauper-boy on the deck below, whose pitiableness was touched, as it were, with ludicrousness by a pair of monstrous boots, apparently some mason's discarded ones, cracked with drouth, half eaten by lime, and curled up about the toe like a bassoon. "Look—ha, ha, ha!" (29, 26)

    Charlie has exactly no manners and a harsh sense of humor. Here he's pointing at an impoverished boy and laughing. Also jarring is that this moment is a random blip in a bigger conversation about laughter. Frank is making a case for the goodness of human kindness, seen through jokes and the joy of laughter. Cue Charlie's mean-spirited guffaw. Making a laughingstock of the poor? Not cool. Having an untrustworthy character trying to bond over laughing at the clothes poor people have to wear? That's just Melville's complex way of showing you what not to do.

    Chapter 36

    Fortunately, to arrest these incoherencies, or rather, to vary them, a haggard, inspired-looking man now approached—a crazy beggar, asking alms under the form of peddling a rhapsodical tract, composed by himself, and setting forth his claims to some rhapsodical apostleship. Though ragged and dirty, there was about him no touch of vulgarity; for, by nature, his manner was not unrefined, his frame slender, and appeared the more so from the broad, untanned frontlet of his brow, tangled over with a disheveled mass of raven curls, throwing a still deeper tinge upon a complexion like that of a shriveled berry. Nothing could exceed his look of picturesque Italian ruin and dethronement, heightened by what seemed just one glimmering peep of reason, insufficient to do him any lasting good, but enough, perhaps, to suggest a torment of latent doubts at times, whether his addled dream of glory were true. (36, 43)

    Frank and Mark Winsome are chatting when some dude pops up selling pamphlets. To inform? To entertain? Unclear. What we do know is that he's not quite all there. There are a variety of social levels on board this ship, and Melville's survey of passengers includes those experiencing poverty with some form of mental illness. The narrator notes that this dude comes off as inoffensive. He's got maybe a glimmer of reason, so we're rooting for him.

    Francis Goodman, a.k.a. The Cosmopolitan

    In his tattered, single-breasted frock-coat, buttoned meagerly up to his chin, the shutter-brain made him a bow, which, for courtesy, would not have misbecome a viscount, then turned with silent appeal to the stranger. But the stranger sat more like a cold prism than ever, while an expression of keen Yankee cuteness, now replacing his former mystical one, lent added icicles to his aspect. His whole air said: "Nothing from me." The repulsed petitioner threw a look full of resentful pride and cracked disdain upon him, and went his way.

    "Come, now," said the cosmopolitan, a little reproachfully, "you ought to have sympathized with that man; tell me, did you feel no fellow-feeling? Look at his tract here, quite in the transcendental vein."

    "Excuse me," said the stranger, declining the tract, "I never patronize scoundrels."


    "I detected in him, sir, a damning peep of sense—damning, I say; for sense in a seeming madman is scoundrelism. I take him for a cunning vagabond, who picks up a vagabond living by adroitly playing the madman. Did you not remark how he flinched under my eye?' (36, 45-49)

    Talk about icing somebody out. Winsome gives zero cares for you if you're in need of money. He's also pretty suspicious of this poor man's mental state. He argues that since the dude isn't completely insane, he must be faking. We're starting to think Melville's trying to tell us it's a pitiless world out there.

    Chapter 41

    "Your dress, my dear Frank, is respectable; your cheek is not gaunt. Why talk of necessities when nakedness and starvation beget the only real necessities?"

    "But I need relief, Charlie; and so sorely, that I now conjure you to forget that I was ever your friend, while I apply to you only as a fellow-being, whom, surely, you will not turn away."

    "That I will not. Take off your hat, bow over to the ground, and supplicate an alms of me in the way of London streets, and you shall not be a sturdy beggar in vain. But no man drops pennies into the hat of a friend, let me tell you. If you turn beggar, then, for the honor of noble friendship, I turn stranger." (41, 10-12)

    Hooooo, this is kind of a doozy, and it's a scary look into Egbert's mind. First off, we get his quick, appearance-based test of human need. A true sufferer of poverty must be malnourished and unclothed, he argues. When pressed for help "as a fellow-being," then he shares what he thinks is the appropriate dynamic between a stranger and a sufferer: beg me…on your knees. Plus, friendship and begging are mutually exclusive for this dude. It's worth pointing out that this means Egbert can't see himself ever being friends with a poor person.

    Chapter 45

    He was a juvenile peddler, or marchand, as the polite French might have called him, of travelers' conveniences; and, having no allotted sleeping-place, had, in his wanderings about the boat, spied, through glass doors, the two in the cabin; and, late though it was, thought it might never be too much so for turning a penny. (45, 33)

    Melville's littlest salesman is an opportunist. Seeing these two men up late on this very long April Fools' Day, he won't pass up a chance at making a sale. As in his naming of Fidèle, Melville drops another French term here, with a heads-up to how "the polite French" would have thought of this kid. Why the nod to this kind of micro-formality? Why bother musing about what the French would have thought? We can't be sure, but what we do know is that Melville likes to prime the reader. With this kid, we're given the idea of "little merchant" to cement the idea he means business. To highlight his poverty, though, we're told he's roaming the cabins because he doesn't have a sleeping place of his own.

  • Isolation

    Chapter 2

    Meantime, like some enchanted man in his grave, happily oblivious of all gossip, whether chiseled or chatted, the deaf and dumb stranger still tranquilly slept, while now the boat started on her voyage.


    Though hitherto, as has been seen, the man in cream-colors had by no means passed unobserved, yet by stealing into retirement, and there going asleep and continuing so, he seemed to have courted oblivion, a boon not often withheld from so humble an applicant as he. (2, 22 & 27)

    Shhh…don't bother this dude. He's asleep. Definitely don't talk about him like he's not there, either. Geez. Our guy, the charity-loving mute, is alone, and Melville emphasizes this by contrasting his silent world with the busyness of the crowd. Here, the mute is even further removed from others by being described as sleeping in a grave, lost to oblivion. His ignorance of what others are saying about him leads to his isolation through both his sleep and inability to hear.

    Chapter 11

    At length, the good merchant, whose eyes were pensively resting upon the gay tables in the distance, broke the spell by saying that, from the spectacle before them, one would little divine what other quarters of the boat might reveal. He cited the case, accidentally encountered but an hour or two previous, of a shrunken old miser, clad in shrunken old moleskin, stretched out, an invalid, on a bare plank in the emigrants' quarters, eagerly clinging to life and lucre, though the one was gasping for outlet, and about the other he was in torment lest death, or some other unprincipled cut-purse, should be the means of his losing it; by like feeble tenure holding lungs and pouch, and yet knowing and desiring nothing beyond them; for his mind, never raised above mould, was now all but mouldered away. To such a degree, indeed, that he had no trust in anything, not even in his parchment bonds, which, the better to preserve from the tooth of time, he had packed down and sealed up, like brandy peaches, in a tin case of spirits. (11, 2)

    This sad sight is the country merchant's depiction of the miser's miserable state. He's telling Tassel all about how the miser was all alone, ill, and scared about being robbed. It's a particularly uncomfortable look into the life of a very old man who has nobody he can rely on while his body is failing him. Worse, whether the country merchant is aware of it or not, these lines reveal his own insensitivity: the country merchant brings up this man just to demonstrate "all the different kinds of people there are!" Merp. Way to stop and care for your fellow man while you're rubbernecking it, man.

    Chapter 22
    Pitch, the Missourian

    "No, no. Look you, as I told that cousin-german of yours, the herb-doctor, I'm now on the road to get me made some sort of machine to do my work. Machines for me. My cider-mill—does that ever steal my cider? My mowing-machine—does that ever lay a-bed mornings? My corn-husker—does that ever give me insolence? No: cider-mill, mowing-machine, corn-husker—all faithfully attend to their business. Disinterested, too; no board, no wages; yet doing good all their lives long; shining examples that virtue is its own reward—the only practical Christians I know." (22, 22)

    The PIO man wants to send Pitch a boy to help with his farm. Nothing doing—Pitch wants machines. Machines he can trust. Machines don't lie and steal from you. Machines are more Christian than people. Oof, that's some tough (lack of) love.

    "To the devil with your principles! Bad sign when a man begins to talk of his principles. Hold, come back, sir; back here, back, sir, back! I tell you no more boys for me. Nay, I'm a Mede and Persian. In my old home in the woods I'm pestered enough with squirrels, weasels, chipmunks, skunks. I want no more wild vermin to spoil my temper and waste my substance. Don't talk of boys; enough of your boys; a plague of your boys; chilblains on your boys! As for Intelligence Offices, I've lived in the East, and know 'em. Swindling concerns kept by low-born cynics, under a fawning exterior wreaking their cynic malice upon mankind. You are a fair specimen of 'em." (22, 18)

    These lines are actually kind of funny. We know Pitch isn't here to make friends, but even as he's putting in a plug for being a loner, he can't overcome the human desire to communicate. He calls the dude from the Philosophical Intelligence Office (PIO) back several times just to explain to him why he doesn't want his services. Translation: I will break through my isolation in order to tell you why isolation is the bee's knees.

    Chapter 24
    Francis Goodman, a.k.a. The Cosmopolitan

    "A cosmopolitan, a catholic man; who, being such, ties himself to no narrow tailor or teacher, but federates, in heart as in costume, something of the various gallantries of men under various suns. Oh, one roams not over the gallant globe in vain. Bred by it, is a fraternal and fusing feeling." (24,10)

    Frank puts in a plug for not being a man-island. Travel the world, folks. It's a brotherhood. See and meet and chat with everybody. This type of roaming connectivity is the ultimate freedom, and isn't freedom what people are actually trying to get with the solitary life?

    "Excuse me, but it just occurs to me that you, my dear fellow, possibly lead a solitary life."

    "Solitary?" starting as at a touch of divination.

    "Yes: in a solitary life one insensibly contracts oddities,—talking to one's self now." (24, 12-14)

    Pitch is uber-surprised that Frank can tell he's doing the lone wolf thing. Of course Frank can tell: he's read Pitch's idiosyncrasies like a book. Pitch's isolation signal? Talking to himself. Can't hold it against him. But it is pretty transparent.

    Pitch, the Missourian

    "Been eaves-dropping, eh?"

    "Why, a soliloquist in a crowd can hardly but be overheard, and without much reproach to the hearer." (24, 15-16)

    You can't technically have isolation unless there's a crowd out there you're not a part of. Maybe. Anyway, here Pitch is rocking the Shakespearean soliloquizing aside. Thing is, people can still hear you when you're talking to yourself, so you may be "alone," but you're not invisible. On the other hand, if people know you're there, does this make you more or less alone?

    Chapter 26

    "For the diluted Indian-hater, although the vacations he permits himself impair the keeping of the character, yet, it should not be overlooked that this is the man who, by his very infirmity, enables us to form surmises, however inadequate, of what Indian-hating in its perfection is." (26, 21)

    Isolation is hard, y'all. Plus, even those trying to stick to twisted goals like being hateful human hunters end up having to take a break from taking a break from society. The hiccup: this changes the definition of what a lonely hunter actually is, since the kinds that venture into towns sully their lone-wolf stances.

    Francis Goodman, a.k.a. The Cosmopolitan

    "The judge, with his usual judgment, always thought that the intense solitude to which the Indian-hater consigns himself, has, by its overawing influence, no little to do with relaxing his vow. He would relate instances where, after some months' lonely scoutings, the Indian-hater is suddenly seized with a sort of calenture; hurries openly towards the first smoke, though he knows it is an Indian's, announces himself as a lost hunter, gives the savage his rifle, throws himself upon his charity, embraces him with much affection, imploring the privilege of living a while in his sweet companionship." (26, 20)

    While we don't have any sympathy for peeps of this kind, apparently even those who've decided to make mortal enemies out of American Indians and devote their lives to solitude get lonely. They get so lonesome for human contact, in fact, that they're willing to put down their weapons and ask for some chitchat. Precious.

    Pitch, the Missourian

    "Accommodate? Pray, no doubt you could accommodate me with a bosom-friend too, couldn't you? Accommodate! Obliging word accommodate: there's accommodation notes now, where one accommodates another with a loan, and if he don't pay it pretty quickly, accommodates him, with a chain to his foot. Accommodate! God forbid that I should ever be accommodated." (22, 22)

    Pitch balks at the notion that the PIO man wants to help him out. Here's the thing, though: PIO guy is offering help in getting Pitch a servant, but it's Pitch who brings up the notion of friendship when he says, Yeah, I bet you could even get me a bestie. What's up with that? Sure, Pitch is saying he needs a BFF like he needs a hefty loan that'll get him into debtor's prison (he doesn't), but why bother even bringing up friends at all? Pitch, is this a cry for company?

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Misanthropy vs. Charity

    Chapter 3

    "Nothing; the foiled wolf's parting howl," said the Methodist. "Spleen, much spleen, which is the rickety child of his evil heart of unbelief: it has made him mad. I suspect him for one naturally reprobate. Oh, friends," raising his arms as in the pulpit, "oh beloved, how are we admonished by the melancholy spectacle of this raver. Let us profit by the lesson; and is it not this: that if, next to mistrusting Providence, there be aught that man should pray against, it is against mistrusting his fellow-man. I have been in mad-houses full of tragic mopers, and seen there the end of suspicion: the cynic, in the moody madness muttering in the corner; for years a barren fixture there; head lopped over, gnawing his own lip, vulture of himself; while, by fits and starts, from the corner opposite came the grimace of the idiot at him." (3, 56)

    This here's a big ol' sermon using the grumpy man with the wooden leg as a sort of scapegoat-like example of what not to do. The Righteous trust in Providence, and therefore, they pity others; the "wrong-teous" are moody and make "vultures of" themselves. Um, what? Well, have you ever heard the expression "eat your heart out"? It's kind of like that: you get so upset that your negative vibes start feeding on you until you're kaput.

    The Man with the Wooden Leg

    "Charity is one thing, and truth is another," rejoined he with the wooden leg: "he's a rascal, I say."

    "But why not, friend, put as charitable a construction as one can upon the poor fellow?" said the soldierlike Methodist, with increased difficulty maintaining a pacific demeanor towards one whose own asperity seemed so little to entitle him to it: "he looks honest, don't he?"

    "Looks are one thing, and facts are another," snapped out the other perversely; "and as to your constructions, what construction can you put upon a rascal, but that a rascal he is?" (3, 33-35)

    Looks like the man with the wooden leg doesn't put much stock in looks. (Has he been chatting with the barber?) He's been using that suspicion to conveniently excuse himself from having to be charitable. If he can't trust people, he figures, then he doesn't have love them.

    Chapter 5
    The Unfortunate Man, John Ringman

    "For, comparatively inexperienced as you are, my dear young friend, did you never observe how little, very little, confidence, there is? I mean between man and man—more particularly between stranger and stranger. In a sad world it is the saddest fact. Confidence! I have sometimes almost thought that confidence is fled; that confidence is the New Astrea—emigrated—vanished—gone." Then softly sliding nearer, with the softest air, quivering down and looking up, "could you now, my dear young sir, under such circumstances, by way of experiment, simply have confidence in me?" (5, 17)

    Weeds, our resident "unfortunate man," is punch-drunk on how much he loves people, and he's really stressed about the fact that so few humans trust one another in this world. Here, he's giving the scholar an earful about how important it is that not only friends but perfect strangers too put faith in one another.

    Chapter 24
    Pitch, the Missourian

    "—My dear fellow, tell me how I can serve you."

    "By dispatching yourself, Mr. Popinjay-of-the-world, into the heart of the Lunar Mountains. You are another of them. Out of my sight!" (24,10-11)

    Nothing like a shove-off when someone offers you his or her goodwill. Pitch is just not having a friendship with Frank. Worse, by telling Frank to go to the Lunar Mountains, Pitch is at once saying, "I want you as far away as outer space," and calling him a lunatic. How rude.

    Francis Goodman, a.k.a. The Cosmopolitan

    "Your hand!" seizing it.

    "Bless me, how cordial a squeeze. It is agreed we shall be brothers, then?"

    "As much so as a brace of misanthropes can be," with another and terrific squeeze. "I had thought that the moderns had degenerated beneath the capacity of misanthropy. Rejoiced, though but in one instance, and that disguised, to be undeceived." (24, 57-59)

    Pitch misunderstands Frank. When Frank invokes Diogenes, Pitch thinks that after all, Frank must just be a regular misanthrope himself. Apparently, Pitch is cool with a brotherhood if that bro-life means hating on others. For Pitch, this "revelation" gives him faith in humanity, that there are still people out there who…hate humanity. Irony alert.

    "—tell me, was not that humor, of Diogenes, which led him to live, a merry-andrew, in the flower-market, better than that of the less wise Athenian, which made him a skulking scare-crow in pine-barrens? An injudicious gentleman, Lord Timon." (24, 56)

    Name-drop time: who exactly is Diogenes? Glad you asked. He's a cynic from classical Greece who wasn't too impressed with society or its leaders, people like Alexander the Great. His claim to fame? He hung out in a tub in his birthday suit in public making a ruckus.

    So why's Diogenes brought up here? Well, Frank is trying to get Pitch to party—you know, be the opposite of a misanthrope. In order to do that, he says that if Pitch is going to be a grumpus, then it's better to be a grumpus like Diogenes, who used to hang out being wild and crazy in the town center, rather than a grumpus like Timon of Athens, another misanthrope who ran away into the woods and bellyached all the time about how bad everybody was. He didn't come to a good end.

    "No man is a stranger. You accost anybody. Warm and confiding, you wait not for measured advances. And though, indeed, mine, in this instance, have met with no very hilarious encouragement, yet the principle of a true citizen of the world is still to return good for ill." (24, 10)

    Frank is explaining what it's like to be a cosmopolitan. The main job requirement is to be ready to be awesome to others, even if they're bags of doo-doo to you. That's some major charity, in the form of generosity of spirit—and it's a fairly tall order.

    "Is the sight of humanity so very disagreeable to you then? Ah, I may be foolish, but for my part, in all its aspects, I love it. Served up la Pole, or la Moor, la Ladrone, or la Yankee, that good dish, man, still delights me; or rather is man a wine I never weary of comparing and sipping; wherefore am I a pledged cosmopolitan, a sort of London-Dock-Vault connoisseur, going about from Teheran to Natchitoches, a taster of races; in all his vintages, smacking my lips over this racy creature, man, continually. But as there are teetotal palates which have a distaste even for Amontillado, so I suppose there may be teetotal souls which relish not even the very best brands of humanity." (24, 12)

    Frank is shocked—shocked—at Pitch's serious lack of interest in making nice with the world. Cue his chance to talk about how much and in what manner he loves mankind. In this description, we can't help but notice how he's using a lot words associated with tasty snacks. More accurately, beverages. Come to think of it, he loves all the people of the world after "sipping" these great "vintages." Is this a realistic point of view, or is Frank kind of a smarmbot?

    Chapter 43
    The Old Man

    "No, sir, I am not surprised," said the old man; then added: "from what you say, I see you are something of my way of thinking—you think that to distrust the creature, is a kind of distrusting of the Creator." (45, 32)

    This line coming in at the eleventh hour is a pretty neat summation of the pro-confidence camp's stance: when you doubt humans, you doubt the God that made them. Too bad the old man says this immediately before buying a bunch of things (like locks) that demonstrate that the confidence he's got is pretty slim.

    The Barber

    "What, sir, to say nothing more, can one be forever dealing in macassar oil, hair dyes, cosmetics, false moustaches, wigs, and toupees, and still believe that men are wholly what they look to be? What think you, sir, are a thoughtful barber's reflections, when, behind a careful curtain, he shaves the thin, dead stubble off a head, and then dismisses it to the world, radiant in curling auburn? To contrast the shamefaced air behind the curtain, the fearful looking forward to being possibly discovered there by a prying acquaintance, with the cheerful assurance and challenging pride with which the same man steps forth again, a gay deception, into the street, while some honest, shock-headed fellow humbly gives him the wall! Ah, sir, they may talk of the courage of truth, but my trade teaches me that truth sometimes is sheepish. Lies, lies, sir, brave lies are the lions!" (43, 14)

    Talk about disillusioned. Years of helping people cover up perceived flaws within the beauty industry has left the barber feeling like no one's the real deal. This kind of distrust breeds misanthropy, because thinking everyone is fake makes it kind of hard to make friends. The barber's also kind of judgmental for someone who's trusted with other people's secrets.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Chapter 3

    "Surely, friend," returned the noble Methodist, with much ado restraining his still waxing indignation—"surely, to say the least, you forget yourself. Apply it home," he continued, with exterior calmness tremulous with inkept emotion. "Suppose, now, I should exercise no charity in judging your own character by the words which have fallen from you; what sort of vile, pitiless man do you think I would take you for?"

    "No doubt"—with a grin—"some such pitiless man as has lost his piety in much the same way that the jockey loses his honesty."

    "And how is that, friend?" still conscientiously holding back the old Adam in him, as if it were a mastiff he had by the neck.

    "Never you mind how it is"—with a sneer; "but all horses aint virtuous, no more than all men kind; and come close to, and much dealt with, some things are catching. When you find me a virtuous jockey, I will find you a benevolent wise man."

    "Some insinuation there."

    "More fool you that are puzzled by it."

    "Reprobate!" cried the other, his indignation now at last almost boiling over; "godless reprobate! if charity did not restrain me, I could call you by names you deserve."

    "Could you, indeed?" with an insolent sneer.

    "Yea, and teach you charity on the spot," cried the goaded Methodist, suddenly catching this exasperating opponent by his shabby coat-collar, and shaking him till his timber-toe clattered on the deck like a nine-pin. "You took me for a non-combatant did you?—thought, seedy coward that you are, that you could abuse a Christian with impunity. You find your mistake"—with another hearty shake. (3, 40-48)

    This is a good old-fashioned backyard insult battle among schoolboys—except it's among two grown men. All their insults hit at the heart of what each believes to be a decent man—and each believes the other isn't it. Besides the representation of men as prideful verbal sparring combatants, Melville adds further commentary about masculinity when his narrator notes that the Methodist was "holding back old Adam." Wait, say what? Holding back your anger is holding back the first biblical man? What does that mean? Is early-biblical man more violent? Less civilized? Melville's map of masculinity is complicated.

    Chapter 12

    Knowing that she would neither confess nor amend, and might, possibly, become even worse than she was, he thought it but duty as a father, to withdraw the child from her; but, loving it as he did, he could not do so without accompanying it into domestic exile himself. Which, hard though it was, he did. Whereupon the whole female neighborhood, who till now had little enough admired dame Goneril, broke out in indignation against a husband, who, without assigning a cause, could deliberately abandon the wife of his bosom, and sharpen the sting to her, too, by depriving her of the solace of retaining her offspring. (12, 4)

    So how can gender relations get even more complicated than they already are? Children, that's how. In this instance, we get a look of what it might mean to be a father, not just a man. This unfortunate man feels duty-bound to take his daughter away from his wife—which puts him in hot water with the women in his neighborhood. This is complicated, because what we get is a narrative of a man who on the outside is abandoning his wife, but no one else knows what his reason is—including the readers. Melville doesn't ever explain what's up with Goneril or quite why the unfortunate man is this distressed. It doesn't help that the unfortunate man is Weeds—the grifter who bums some cash off of the country merchant and has an awkward chat with the scholar. Who do we trust, and why is this characterized as a man-vs.-woman dilemma?

    Needless to say what distress was the unfortunate man's, when, engaged in conversation with company, he would suddenly perceive his Goneril bestowing her mysterious touches, especially in such cases where the strangeness of the thing seemed to strike upon the touched person, notwithstanding good-breeding forbade his proposing the mystery, on the spot, as a subject of discussion for the company. In these cases, too, the unfortunate man could never endure so much as to look upon the touched young gentleman afterwards, fearful of the mortification of meeting in his countenance some kind of more or less quizzingly-knowing expression. He would shudderingly shun the young gentleman. So that here, to the husband, Goneril's touch had the dread operation of the heathen taboo. (12, 4)

    We get precious few mentions of women in The Confidence-Man, and exactly no solid female characters. What female characters we do see aren't presented in the most favorable light. This holds true for Goneril, for example, who shares a name with an infamous Shakespearean villain. (There aren't a lot of Gonerils in the world or in literature, folks, so you can bet this is a direct reference.) Her behavior of creep-touching dinner guests on the arm or shoulder gets gendered here. For the unfortunate—ahem—man, dealing with this becomes a note on his masculinity in this story within the story. How does the dude deal with it? With silent shame. He doesn't look other men in the eye if they've been grazed by Goneril. This gendered domestic cold war also gets another weird layer: the unfortunate man stays silent because of his "good-breeding," which allows for a "heathen taboo" to result from Goneril's actions. In other words, the dude gets aligned with civilization, and the lady with the questionable name is in the heathen camp.

    Chapter 17

    Issuing from that road, and crossing that landing, there stooped his shaggy form in the door-way, and entered the ante-cabin, with a step so burdensome that shot seemed in his pockets, a kind of invalid Titan in homespun; his beard blackly pendant, like the Carolina-moss, and dank with cypress dew; his countenance tawny and shadowy as an iron-ore country in a clouded day. In one hand he carried a heavy walking-stick of swamp-oak; with the other, led a puny girl, walking in moccasins, not improbably his child, but evidently of alien maternity, perhaps Creole, or even Camanche. (17, 9)

    Melville captures a spectrum of notions of masculinity in this text, with the super burly woodsman on one end, and the most youthful femininity on the other. The man described here is weighed down by heavy clothes and gear. He's presented in stark contrast to his daughter, who is described as "puny." As one of the very few female characters in the text, it's worth checking out what her presence does for building a definition of masculinity by way of contrast. Like Goneril, she is aligned with "alien maternity." We're sensing a trend here in which dudes and dudettes are categorized as fundamentally different on every front: old vs. young, big vs. small, white vs. not-white.

    Sobering down now, the herb-doctor addressed the stranger in a manly, business-like way—a transition which, though it might seem a little abrupt, did not appear constrained, and, indeed, served to show that his recent levity was less the habit of a frivolous nature, than the frolic condescension of a kindly heart. (17, 14)

    False alarm: the herb-doc's masculinity is spared because we now know that he's not "frivolous." Instead, he is just a good sport. Plus, he's literally described as someone who is an alternative type of "manly." If the big, strong father is manly because he looks like he's conquered nature, then the herb-doctor is sporting the businessman manliness of tackling money matters.

    The Herb-Doctor

    No sooner was the pair spied by the herb-doctor, than with a cheerful air, both arms extended like a host's, he advanced, and taking the child's reluctant hand, said, trippingly: "On your travels, ah, my little May Queen? Glad to see you. What pretty moccasins. Nice to dance in." Then with a half caper sang—

    "Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle;
    The cow jumped over the moon.

    Come, chirrup, chirrup, my little robin!"

    Which playful welcome drew no responsive playfulness from the child, nor appeared to gladden or conciliate the father; but rather, if anything, to dash the dead weight of his heavy-hearted expression with a smile hypochondriacally scornful. (17, 10-13)

    Okay, this is slightly more complicated than your average battle-of-the-sexes stuff. First off, the herb-doctor is being kind of fake in order to get the daughter to be on his team, but soon his masculinity is evaluated against the woodsy father's. While the father is serious, the herb-doctor is jolly and sings a sappy tune to the little girl. In light of the father's grim mood and the daughter's beautifully angst-ridden disgust, the herb-doctor is made into a ridiculous figure. The message? Don't let yourself be too chipper, because your irreverence just might threaten your masculinity. Maybe.

    Chapter 18
    The Herb-Doctor

    "Are there none here who feel in need of help, and who, in accepting such help, would feel that they, in their time, have given or done more than may ever be given or done to them? Man or woman, is there none such here?"

    The sobs of the woman were more audible, though she strove to repress them. While nearly every one's attention was bent upon her, a man of the appearance of a day-laborer, with a white bandage across his face, concealing the side of the nose, and who, for coolness' sake, had been sitting in his red-flannel shirt-sleeves, his coat thrown across one shoulder, the darned cuffs drooping behind—this man shufflingly rose, and, with a pace that seemed the lingering memento of the lock-step of convicts, went up for a duly-qualified claimant. (18, 27-28)

    We've got not one, but two women in this scene. It's kind of a big deal. We're going the figure-out-masculinity-by-contrasting-it-against-representations-of-feminitity route, and this one is subtle business. Let's set the scene: the herb-doctor walks back into a room he left earlier. He was kind of laughed out of it because everyone thought his medicine must be rubbish. Now he's back, and he's offering up money for anyone who needs it (though this could just be a ploy to garner goodwill). Anyway, what we want to pay attention to is the crowd.

    Just before these lines, one woman gets shamed into not accepting the charity because the rest of the crowd doesn't believe she deserves it. Why? They disapprove of her outfit. Lame. Okay, but right here, there's a weeping widow who ostensibly needs the money. She doesn't get it, either. Is it because she'll be stared down by the crowd, too? Is it because she has too much pride? Jury is out.

    Who does get the money? A man whose day-laborer status introduces class into the tricky business of how Melville's text explores being a man. The dude's been injured, and he steps up to receive the cash as if it's been rightfully his all along. He's got a walk that seems to be a "lingering memento of the lock-step of convicts." Is this supposed to make him seem less trustworthy because of a supposed criminal past? Is this to show he's been reformed? We don't know.

    What we do know is that nobody stares him into submission. Nobody even tries. He gets to claim the money when two women were denied. This scene demands that we try to assess who is deserving of money. Make no mistake, this moment is majorly complicated.

    Chapter 21
    Pitch, the Missourian

    "At this coon. Can you, the fox, catch him?"

    "If you mean," returned the other, not unselfpossessed, "whether I flatter myself that I can in any way dupe you, or impose upon you, or pass myself off upon you for what I am not, I, as an honest man, answer that I have neither the inclination nor the power to do aught of the kind."

    "Honest man? Seems to me you talk more like a craven."

    "You in vain seek to pick a quarrel with me, or put any affront upon me. The innocence in me heals me."

    "A healing like your own nostrums. But you are a queer man—a very queer and dubious man; upon the whole, about the most so I ever met." (21, 75-79)

    The herb-doctor is up against another version of the rough-and-tumble woodsman, but this time it's with a man who's a bit sprightlier. What do we make of their interaction? Well, for one thing, we get specific value judgments from Pitch about what type of a man the herb-doctor is, and they're all negative. Contrasting the herb-doctor's more mannered tone against Pitch's volatile jibes, we learn that part of the reason Pitch distrusts the dude (besides the obvious shady medicine thing) is because he talks a good game.

    Wait a minute—the herb-doctor's being dissed for being good with words? Well, yeah—he's too good with them. Like, politician-level good—which, as we all know, means that nothing he says can be trusted. Overall, Melville presents a complicated system of manhood in which there is both value and danger in being seen as smart and eloquent. Depending on who you're chatting up, brains can be a boon or, as this coon-hat wearing rustic argues, a sign that you've got no brawn. Even trickier is the fact that Pitch aligns the herb-doctor's talents with the ability to deceive, while the herb-doctor claims innocence and hopes to demonstrate this by keeping his cool—another "manly" trait in this text, but who's keeping track?.

    Chapter 24
    Pitch, the Missourian

    "Hands off!" cried the bachelor, involuntarily covering dejection with moroseness.

    "Hands off? that sort of label won't do in our Fair. Whoever in our Fair has fine feelings loves to feel the nap of fine cloth, especially when a fine fellow wears it."

    "And who of my fine-fellow species may you be? From the Brazils, ain't you? Toucan fowl. Fine feathers on foul meat." (24, 1-3)

    We learn in kindergarten that it's best to keep our hands to ourselves. Pitch really doesn't like it when Frank gets grabby with him—the familiarity is too much, and the text asks us to look at Pitch's "manly" discomfort against Frank's sensual appreciation of Pitch's clothing and body. Pitch responds to Frank's appreciation with disdain: he's not into Frank's "fancy" outfit, which makes him look like a painted bird, and he insults him with a pun on "fowl" by calling Frank's clothes "fine feathers on foul meat." Why is Frank fowl (foul?) to Pitch? Is it because he doesn't ascribe to serious, plain, and rough stereotypes of masculinity?

    Chapter 26

    "'The backwoodsman is a lonely man. He is a thoughtful man. He is a man strong and unsophisticated. Impulsive, he is what some might call unprincipled. At any rate, he is self-willed; being one who less hearkens to what others may say about things, than looks for himself, to see what are things themselves. If in straits, there are few to help; he must depend upon himself; he must continually look to himself. Hence self-reliance, to the degree of standing by his own judgment, though it stand alone. Not that he deems himself infallible; too many mistakes in following trails prove the contrary; but he thinks that nature destines such sagacity as she has given him, as she destines it to the 'possum. To these fellow-beings of the wilds their untutored sagacity is their best dependence. If with either it prove faulty, if the 'possum's betray it to the trap, or the backwoodsman's mislead him into ambuscade, there are consequences to be undergone, but no self-blame.'" (26, 3)

    Don't let the simplicity of this pseudo-definition of a backwoodsman fool you; this moment has layers. Layers how, you ask? Well, get this. 1) This definition of a burly backwoodsman is taken verbatim from a judge (a scholastic dude with power) and retold by Charlie (a fake sneaky-sneakerson who tries to get others drunk when he won't drink) to his new "buddy" the cosmopolitan (a fancy world-traveler) in order to diss Pitch, a backwoodsmen looked down on by Charlie, the PIO man, and the herb-doctor for being uncouth.

    Phew, that was a lot. The point is that each of these dudes is the embodiment of a very different version of manliness, each of which gets tested out against the others.

    So what's up with this definition? For one thing, it's a transparent snapshot of one early version of the American dream, which was to be self-reliant and a tamer of nature. For another thing, it's an insult. For a judge to judge the backwoodsman as "unsophisticated" even when he calls him "strong" and "thoughtful" suggests he's mocking that strength and questioning the value of those thoughts.

    Plus, take note of what the backwoodsman gets compared to—an opossum. He's not described as a man of intellect, but one of instinct—like an animal. Ouch. An added insult is that reason and intelligence are often talked about as if they are what separate us from the animals. Is the judge suggesting that certain definitions of manliness are animalistic? Is this Melville's critique? Is Melville just trolling everyone? (A distinct possibility.)

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    Chapter 4
    The Unfortunate Man, John Ringman

    The growing interest betrayed by the merchant had not relaxed as the other proceeded. After some hesitation, indeed, something more than hesitation, he confessed that, though he had never received any injury of the sort named, yet, about the time in question, he had in fact been taken with a brain fever, losing his mind completely for a considerable interval. He was continuing, when the stranger with much animation exclaimed:

    "There now, you see, I was not wholly mistaken. That brain fever accounts for it all."

    "Nay; but——"

    "Pardon me, Mr. Roberts," respectfully interrupting him, "but time is short, and I have something private and particular to say to you. Allow me." (4, 27-30)

    Weeds is pulling some Inception-type nonsense with the country merchant: he basically tries to plant memories into the country merchant's brain by arguing that they've met before. When the country merchant persists in being all "Nah, brah," Weeds tells this story about how you can lose memories with a brain injury—has he had one of those? No? Oh, well, then he must have had brain fever. That must be it. The country merchant barely consents to this theory when Weeds goes whole-hog into his money-asking spiel. This dude moves quickly.

    Chapter 8
    The Man in the Grey and White Suit

    "Nay, nay, you have none—none at all. Pardon, I see it. No confidence. Fool, fond fool that I am to seek it!"

    "You are unjust, sir," rejoins the good lady with heightened interest; "but it may be that something untoward in your experiences has unduly biased you. Not that I would cast reflections. Believe me, I—yes, yes—I may say—that—that——"

    "That you have confidence? Prove it. Let me have twenty dollars."

    "Twenty dollars!"

    "There, I told you, madam, you had no confidence."

    The lady was, in an extraordinary way, touched. She sat in a sort of restless torment, knowing not which way to turn. She began twenty different sentences, and left off at the first syllable of each. At last, in desperation, she hurried out, "Tell me, sir, for what you want the twenty dollars?"

    "And did I not——" then glancing at her half-mourning, "for the widow and the fatherless. I am traveling agent of the Widow and Orphan Asylum, recently founded among the Seminoles."

    "And why did you not tell me your object before?" As not a little relieved. "Poor souls—Indians, too—those cruelly-used Indians. Here, here; how could I hesitate. I am so sorry it is no more." (8, 15-22)

    The man in the grey-and-white suit really twists the emotional arm of this young widow's good intentions. All she wants to do is be friendly to this weird stranger who has sat down beside her. Instead, he majorly manipulates her kindness so that she'll pony up some cash. His strategy? He'll deny that she has any confidence in him at all, and then he'll demand she have more faith in him than she's willing to put into a stranger. He tops it all off with a strategic delay in telling her the reason he wants the money. By the time he reveals that he wants it so that he can make a donation, she's already been on a mini emo-rollercoaster. Her relief is that she suddenly doesn't have to worry about trusting him—she's just giving to charity. Right? Right?

    Chapter 9
    The Stockbroker, John Thurman

    He stood vexedly twitching at his cap-tassel, which fell over by his whisker, and continued: "Well, I am very sorry. In fact, I had something for him here."—Then drawing nearer, "you see, he applied to me for relief, no, I do him injustice, not that, but he began to intimate, you understand. Well, being very busy just then, I declined; quite rudely, too, in a cold, morose, unfeeling way, I fear. At all events, not three minutes afterwards I felt self-reproach, with a kind of prompting, very peremptory, to deliver over into that unfortunate man's hands a ten-dollar bill. You smile. Yes, it may be superstition, but I can't help it; I have my weak side, thank God. Then again," he rapidly went on, "we have been so very prosperous lately in our affairs—by we, I mean the Black Rapids Coal Company—that, really, out of my abundance, associative and individual, it is but fair that a charitable investment or two should be made, don't you think so?" (9, 10)

    Want someone to think that your hot tip on a stock is something worth investing in? Drop into the conversation how much money you've made. Tassel super casually humble-brags about his company and how much it made on the stock market, so the scholar feels like he's getting secret info. The icing on the cake comes when Tassel says he made so much money he wants to donate some.

    The Scholar

    "Sir," said the collegian without the least embarrassment, "do I understand that you are officially connected with the Black Rapids Coal Company?"

    "Yes, I happen to be president and transfer-agent."

    "You are?"

    "Yes, but what is it to you? You don't want to invest?"

    "Why, do you sell the stock?"

    "Some might be bought, perhaps; but why do you ask? you don't want to invest?"

    "But supposing I did," with cool self-collectedness, "could you do up the thing for me, and here?"

    "Bless my soul," gazing at him in amaze, "really, you are quite a business man. Positively, I feel afraid of you."

    "Oh, no need of that.—You could sell me some of that stock, then?" (9, 11-19)

    Flattery will get you everywhere in this novel—or at least it'll get you pretty far if you're talking to someone who already believes the compliments you're spinning. When Tassel calls the scholar a businessman, he's playing the innocent game: you're the savvy stock-buyer; I'm the lowly seller. Butter 'em up before you slice 'em to pieces.

    Chapter 10
    The Stockbroker, John Thurman

    "Dear me, you don't think of doing any business with me, do you? In my official capacity I have not been authenticated to you. This transfer-book, now," holding it up so as to bring the lettering in sight, "how do you know that it may not be a bogus one? And I, being personally a stranger to you, how can you have confidence in me?"

    "Because," knowingly smiled the good merchant, "if you were other than I have confidence that you are, hardly would you challenge distrust that way." (10, 51-52)

    Hello, here's Tassel again. This shifty fellow has changed his tactic slightly. Instead of playing the innocent stockbroker type (isn't that an oxymoron?), he's playing hard to get. Rather than asking for confidence, he uses reverse psychology, and it works. The country merchant eats it up.

    Chapter 15
    The Miser

    "Don't, don't leave me, friend; bear with me; age can't help some distrust; it can't, friend, it can't. Ugh, ugh, ugh! Oh, I am so old and miserable. I ought to have a guardian. Tell me, if——"

    "If? No more!"

    "Stay! how soon—ugh, ugh!—would my money be trebled? How soon, friend?"

    "You won't confide. Good-bye!"

    "Stay, stay," falling back now like an infant, "I confide, I confide; help, friend, my distrust!"

    From an old buckskin pouch, tremulously dragged forth, ten hoarded eagles, tarnished into the appearance of ten old horn-buttons, were taken, and half-eagerly, half-reluctantly, offered.

    "I know not whether I should accept this slack confidence," said the other coldly, receiving the gold, "but an eleventh-hour confidence, a sick-bed confidence, a distempered, death-bed confidence, after all. Give me the healthy confidence of healthy men, with their healthy wits about them. But let that pass. All right. Good-bye!" (15, 44-50)

    Tassel changes his tune again. Now he's demanding confidence from his victims—er, clients. He pretty much gets the miser to beg him to him to sell him stock by shaming him about having a lack of confidence. It's icky. Impressive, but icky.

    Chapter 16
    The Herb-Doctor


    "What herbs? And the nature of them? And the reason for giving them?"

    "It cannot be made known."

    "Then I will none of you."

    Sedately observant of the juiceless, joyless form before him, the herb-doctor was mute a moment, then said:—"I give up."


    "You are sick, and a philosopher."

    "No, no;—not the last."

    "But, to demand the ingredient, with the reason for giving, is the mark of a philosopher; just as the consequence is the penalty of a fool. A sick philosopher is incurable?"


    "Because he has no confidence."

    "How does that make him incurable?"

    "Because either he spurns his powder, or, if he take it, it proves a blank cartridge, though the same given to a rustic in like extremity, would act like a charm. I am no materialist; but the mind so acts upon the body, that if the one have no confidence, neither has the other." (16, 23-35)

    Always pay attention to how a person—especially a person trying to get you to do something—answers your questions. The herb-doctor gets the miser right where he wants him by calling him a philosopher. Being a philosopher is not what the miser wants to be; he fancies himself a practical man and assumes that a practical man is the opposite of a philosopher. (We beg to differ, but whatever.) The herb-doc pulls the old switcheroo on the miser and puts down the all-important questions of "What's in this medicine and why?" by saying that that's what a philosopher would want to know. Healing, apparently, is all about faith and confidence, not knowledge—at least according to the herb-doctor.

    "You told me to have confidence, said that confidence was indispensable, and here you preach to me distrust. Ah, truth will out!"

    "I told you, you must have confidence, unquestioning confidence, I meant confidence in the genuine medicine, and the genuine me."

    "But in your absence, buying vials purporting to be yours, it seems I cannot have unquestioning confidence."

    "Prove all the vials; trust those which are true."

    "But to doubt, to suspect, to prove—to have all this wearing work to be doing continually—how opposed to confidence. It is evil!"

    "From evil comes good. Distrust is a stage to confidence. How has it proved in our interview? But your voice is husky; I have let you talk too much. You hold your cure; I will leave you. But stay—when I hear that health is yours, I will not, like some I know, vainly make boasts; but, giving glory where all glory is due, say, with the devout herb-doctor, Japus in Virgil, when, in the unseen but efficacious presence of Venus, he with simples healed the wound of Aneas:

    'This is no mortal work, no cure of mine,
    Nor art's effect, but done by power divine.'" (16, 59-65)

    The herb-doctor is a smooth operator as well. His tactic with this sick man is to equate confidence in his medicine with faith in God. He messes with the man's head, though, by telling him to beware counterfeit meds. This makes the unwilling patient all worried, and he freaks out. We're not 100% sure if he's calling his new doubt evil or the herb-doctor's insertion of his new doubt evil. It's a toss-up, but here's what we do know: the herb-doctor applies some fancy footwork when he says "from evil comes good." Now, this is some twisty business. He could mean that God makes good things even out of bad situations, but we have no guarantee of that. What we do understand is that the herb-doctor is trying to get a divine pass with an appeal to God's power as the source of his own power.

    Chapter 17

    But, injured as he was, and patient under it, too, somehow his case excited as little compassion as his oratory now did enthusiasm. Still, pathetic to the last, he continued his appeals, notwithstanding the frigid regard of the company, till, suddenly interrupting himself, as if in reply to a quick summons from without, he said hurriedly, "I come, I come," and so, with every token of precipitate dispatch, out of the cabin the herb-doctor went. (17, 43)

    These lines appear at the tail end of a sales event at which the herb-doctor isn't doing so well. While not his shining hour, this moment is hilarious for the herb-doctor's quick-thinking in performing a Shakespearean stage exit. It's not the most cunning moment, but it is a clever twist with a bit of comedy.

    Chapter 22
    Pitch, the Missourian

    "Ah, sir, permit me—when I behold you on this mild summer's eve, thus eccentrically clothed in the skins of wild beasts, I cannot but conclude that the equally grim and unsuitable habit of your mind is likewise but an eccentric assumption, having no basis in your genuine soul, no more than in nature herself."

    "Well, really, now—really," fidgeted the bachelor, not unaffected in his conscience by these benign personalities, "really, really, now, I don't know but that I may have been a little bit too hard upon those five and thirty boys of mine." (22, 104-105)

    Poor Pitch. This lonely misanthrope is really just looking for a friend in the end. The PIO guy throws him off with this biting backhanded compliment. Basically, he says that even though Pitch's mind is as messed up as his clothes, both are just "worn," while his real essence is clearly superior. Uh, thanks, we guess. This comment certainly unsettles Pitch, who chooses to take it as a compliment.

  • Education

    Chapter 5

    Overhearing his murmuring neighbor, the youth regarded him with some surprise, not to say interest. But, singularly for a collegian, being apparently of a retiring nature, he did not speak; when the other still more increased his diffidence by changing from soliloquy to colloquy, in a manner strangely mixed of familiarity and pathos. (5, 6)

    The college student here is shy and not talkative. We're not sure if Melville is joking, though, when he says "singularly for a collegian." See, scholars often get a rep for being melancholy and for keeping to themselves. On the other hand, young college students are also teased if they act like know-it-alls, so Melville could be "shocked" that this guy is keeping quiet. Either way, there's some tricky generalizing about what it means to be into book-learnin'.

    The Man With the Weed Makes It an Even Question Whether He Be a Great Sage Or a Great Simpleton (5, title)

    We don't really know what it says about humans in general that it's so hard to distinguish between a genius and a dull bulb, but this title brings our attention to that fine line. It also prods us to consider the question of perspective: where are we—as the audience—in relation to this line? Are we close to the "simpleton" and confused by sagacity? Better question: if we're not the brightest crayons in the box, will we judge the smarty-pantses as dumb-dumbs? Oh, this is a pickle. All we do know is that Weeds has a lot of opinions about education, and they show up in this chapter.

    The Unfortunate Man, John Ringman

    "I see, I see. But of course you read Tacitus in order to aid you in understanding human nature—as if truth was ever got at by libel." (5, 15)

    Weeds has his own axe to grind when he picks up Tacitus, but we're more interested in the accidental philosophizing he gets into regarding what a classical education is. For him, it's the study of human nature—as opposed to, say, the study of natural science or engineering or something like that.

    Chapter 13

    When the merchant, strange to say, opposed views so calm and impartial, and again, with some warmth, deplored the case of the unfortunate man, his companion, not without seriousness, checked him, saying, that this would never do; that, though but in the most exceptional case, to admit the existence of unmerited misery, more particularly if alleged to have been brought about by unhindered arts of the wicked, such an admission was, to say the least, not prudent; since, with some, it might unfavorably bias their most important persuasions. (13, 6)

    Sometimes the most important education comes from life itself. Tassel is trying to school the country merchant about not getting carried away by his emotions. You may have the best of intentions, he says, but if you tie your opinions to strong emotions, you'll end up missing facts. That kind of bias will backfire by giving you bad information, and it will make you seem ridiculous. This is great advice to scholars (and educators and politicians and literally anybody everywhere), because you need to keep a cool head and a detached approach in a debate or when learning new things—otherwise you'll let your sadness or anger or giddiness or glee keep you in the dark.

    Years ago, a grave American savant, being in London, observed at an evening party there, a certain coxcombical fellow, as he thought, an absurd ribbon in his lapel, and full of smart persiflage, whisking about to the admiration of as many as were disposed to admire. Great was the savan's disdain; but, chancing ere long to find himself in a corner with the jackanapes, got into conversation with him, when he was somewhat ill-prepared for the good sense of the jackanapes, but was altogether thrown aback, upon subsequently being whispered by a friend that the jackanapes was almost as great a savan as himself, being no less a personage than Sir Humphrey Davy. (13, 1)

    These lines are mainly about not being a snob before you've got all the facts. (We'd like to say don't be a snob, because, ew, don't be a snob—but close enough.) Anyway, we'd just like to take a moment to say that here, being "cool" means being an intellectual prodigy. That is something Shmoop can get behind. Also, name drop: Sir Humphrey Davy was a super-famous British chemist from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. How embarrassing for the grim American student who thought Sir Davy was too flashy to be sensible.

    Chapter 15

    The merchant having withdrawn, the other remained seated alone for a time, with the air of one who, after having conversed with some excellent man, carefully ponders what fell from him, however intellectually inferior it may be, that none of the profit may be lost; happy if from any honest word he has heard he can derive some hint, which, besides confirming him in the theory of virtue, may, likewise, serve for a finger-post to virtuous action. (15, 1)

    We're a little irritated that Tassel thinks he's mentally superior to the country man, but there's good advice here to be had, nevertheless: don't waste any life experience, and learn from everybody. This doesn't mean everyone you meet is good and kind and smart and talented. It does mean you can pick up a few cool tricks from anywhere and anyone. Bitter twist here, though? What Tassel "learns" is that there's a rich, old, sick man Tassel is setting out to rob.

    Chapter 22

    "Respected sir, have I not already informed you that the quite new method, the strictly philosophical one, on which our office is founded, has led me and my associates to an enlarged study of mankind. It was my fault, if I did not, likewise, hint, that these studies directed always to the scientific procuring of good servants of all sorts, boys included, for the kind gentlemen, our patrons—that these studies, I say, have been conducted equally among all books of all libraries, as among all men of all nations." (22, 96)

    Hoo-wee, we've got a doozy here. Okay, first of all, the PIO man says he himself has studied mankind in order to both understand and teach people. These lines are loaded, because the dude's making the case that education causes metamorphosis: you become a new person by being able to learn. This has been the case made about education for centuries.

    The funny thing is that there's a debate about the <em>ends</em> of education, or its purpose. Is it to make you a better person? Is it to make you a better citizen? Is it to give you the skills you need to survive? Is it to give you knowledge that will set you free? For the PIO man, it's to make good, obedient servants. It's servant-training. Yikes. Seems like the education that has given the PIO man power over his own life is being used to undermine the lives of others.

    In the Polite Spirit Of the Tusculan Disputations (22, title)

    We've got another title here, and it's a great little nod to education within the classical tradition. Disputations were organized school debates during which students compiled evidence to prove their case. This chapter is about the PIO man trying to convince Pitch to hire a farmhand. Pitch bemoans human nature, and the PIO man argues for the educability of moral character.

    Pitch, the Missourian

    "Ah, you are a talking man—what I call a wordy man. You talk, talk."

    "And with submission, sir, what is the greatest judge, bishop or prophet, but a talking man? He talks, talks. It is the peculiar vocation of a teacher to talk. What's wisdom itself but table-talk? The best wisdom in this world, and the last spoken by its teacher, did it not literally and truly come in the form of table-talk?" (22, 89-90)

    Pitch accuses the PIO man of being a talker. For Pitch, if you're talking up a storm, you're up to no good—but the PIO man turns things around on him…with talk…about talk. He's all, Remember oral tradition? Remember great philosophers? Remember basic education? Remember preachers? Heck, even the Bible is a record of what people said others said. Words have a lot of power, and the PIO man focuses on one of the biggies when he points to talking as teaching and learning.

    Chapter 44

    "Quite an original:" A phrase, we fancy, rather oftener used by the young, or the unlearned, or the untraveled, than by the old, or the well-read, or the man who has made the grand tour. Certainly, the sense of originality exists at its highest in an infant, and probably at its lowest in him who has completed the circle of the sciences. (44, 1)

    There are those who are easily surprised, shocked, or scandalized, and there are those who've been educated—either in terms of life experience or schooling. This doesn't necessarily mean you lose your sense of wonder and curiosity once you've been educated, but here the narrator draws a distinction between those who really look at and learn from the world and those who can't, won't, or haven't yet.

  • The Supernatural

    Chapter 31

    A Metamorphosis More Surprising Than Any in Ovid (31, title)

    What's in a title? A lot, actually. Chapter 31 gives us a nod to that great epic poem about gods, heroes, the origin of the world, and—most importantly—transformation. Ovid's Metamorphoses is a text that gets a lot of play whenever there's a need to evaluate appearance versus reality, or the intersection of the natural and supernatural. Anyway, the big shift in this chapter occurs when a major character turns out to be a major butt. Although it's not like we didn't see it coming.

    Chapter 32

    Showing That the Age of Magic and Magicians Is Not Yet Over (32, title)

    This title highlights two things that are connected, but not the same. The age of magic might refer to a time when humans believed magic and witchcraft were a thing. We're talking about the time of the Salem witch trials, for example, and even earlier, when religion and folklore had a complicated relationship. Magicians? Now, that's a little trickier. Magicians are in the realm of tricks, jokes, sleights-of-hand, and illusion. So what's going on in this chapter? Are we dealing with real magic, or just magic tricks?

    While speaking or rather hissing those words, the boon companion underwent much such a change as one reads of in fairy-books. Out of old materials sprang a new creature. Cadmus glided into the snake. (32, 1)

    Well, lookie here, we've got a genuine allusion to a specific story in Ovid's Metamorphoses about Cadmus, the hero who founds Thebes but ends up a bit serpentine. To complete this moment, we've got a hissing sound effect describing Charlie's messed-up response to Frank's request for money.


    "My dear Frank," now cried the restored friend, cordially stepping out of the ring, with regained self-possession regaining lost identity, "My dear Frank, what a funny man you are; full of fun as an egg of meat. How could you tell me that absurd story of your being in need? But I relish a good joke too well to spoil it by letting on. Of course, I humored the thing; and, on my side, put on all the cruel airs you would have me. Come, this little episode of fictitious estrangement will but enhance the delightful reality. Let us sit down again, and finish our bottle." (32, 5)

    Okay, these three words dispel the spell, but this scene is way tricky. On the one hand, we're given complete freedom to take what happens to Charlie at face value, as an actual supernatural moment. On the other hand, Charlie says that he was joshing—he was only pretending to be a cheap and crass old goat. Which is it? We can't really say for certain. We are certain, though, that that's probably the point.

    Francis Goodman, a.k.a. The Cosmopolitan

    "With all my heart," said the cosmopolitan, dropping the necromancer with the same facility with which he had assumed it. "Yes," he added, soberly picking up the gold pieces, and returning them with a chink to his pocket, "yes, I am something of a funny man now and then; while for you, Charlie," eying him in tenderness, "what you say about your humoring the thing is true enough; never did man second a joke better than you did just now. You played your part better than I did mine; you played it, Charlie, to the life."

    "You see, I once belonged to an amateur play company; that accounts for it. But come, fill up, and let's talk of something else." (32, 6-7)

    Ever heard of the connection between theater and religion and magic? No? Well, the Western tradition has a long tradition of spectacle, whether that gets played out onstage or in church. The ability to make an audience experience an incredible range of feelings is almost magical, and some theatrical rituals even have roots in or overlap with magic. So, okay, what does any of this have to do with what's going on here? Well, for one thing, Charlie straight up just said he was playacting. On top of that, he says he's gained his powers of persuasion from performing in community theater. We think it's worth considering the role of drama in this moment, since even Frank is described as "dropping the necromancer" routine.

    The cosmopolitan rose, the traces of previous feeling vanished; looked steadfastly at his transformed friend a moment, then, taking ten half-eagles from his pocket, stooped down, and laid them, one by one, in a circle round him; and, retiring a pace, waved his long tasseled pipe with the air of a necromancer, an air heightened by his costume, accompanying each wave with a solemn murmur of cabalistical words.

    Meantime, he within the magic-ring stood suddenly rapt, exhibiting every symptom of a successful charm—a turned cheek, a fixed attitude, a frozen eye; spellbound, not more by the waving wand than by the ten invincible talismans on the floor.

    "Reappear, reappear, reappear, oh, my former friend! Replace this hideous apparition with thy blest shape, and be the token of thy return the words, 'My dear Frank.'" (32, 2-4)

    Wait. What just happened here? Did he…? Is Frank magic? We know this isn't your cutesy pull-a-rabbit-out-of-your-hat trick. Everything in this scene has the trappings of witchcraft or your average old-school, demon-summoning type incantation. In this case, the "demon" Frank is summoning is the friendlier version of Charlie. Pay close attention to what Frank uses to bring back the confidence-offering Charlie: gold coins.

    Chapter 45

    The next moment, the waning light expired, and with it the waning flames of the horned altar, and the waning halo round the robed man's brow; while in the darkness which ensued, the cosmopolitan kindly led the old man away. Something further may follow of this Masquerade. (45, 134)

    What happens when the lights go out? We don't know. No joke, this is a mystery, and it's the end of the book. We know Frank the cosmopolitan is leading the old man away, but is he really going to take him safely to his sleeping quarters? We hope so. What's worrying us, though—besides the possibility of the presence of the devil—is the suggestion there is more of the capital-M Masquerade to follow. Who's masquerading? Frank? All the con-artists? Were they all one dude (the devil)? What did we just read?

    These questions were put to a boy in the fragment of an old linen coat, bedraggled and yellow, who, coming in from the deck barefooted on the soft carpet, had been unheard. All pointed and fluttering, the rags of the little fellow's red-flannel shirt, mixed with those of his yellow coat, flamed about him like the painted flames in the robes of a victim in auto-da-fe. His face, too, wore such a polish of seasoned grime, that his sloe-eyes sparkled from out it like lustrous sparks in fresh coal. (45, 33)

    Supernatural jackpot over here. Creepy silent kid? Check. Red and yellow outfit fluttering up like hellish flames? Check. Coal-dark, fire-sparkling hellion gleam in his eye? Check. There's a shout-out to an auto-da-fé. What's that? Well, during the Spanish Inquisition, this "act of faith" was a ritual punishing of a person accused of being a heretic. Favorite punishment of the time? Burning at the stake, of course. So what does this reference mean? Is the kid a heretic, a witch, a victim of religious fanaticism, or something demonic? The world may never know. But we're definitely supposed to wonder about it.

    In the middle of the gentleman's cabin burned a solar lamp, swung from the ceiling, and whose shade of ground glass was all round fancifully variegated, in transparency, with the image of a horned altar, from which flames rose, alternate with the figure of a robed man, his head encircled by a halo. The light of this lamp, after dazzlingly striking on marble, snow-white and round—the slab of a centre-table beneath—on all sides went rippling off with ever-diminishing distinctness, till, like circles from a stone dropped in water, the rays died dimly away in the furthest nook of the place. (45, 1)

    The devil, right? That's what's on the lamp, right? Creepy altar in flames, horns, a robed dude—we've got all the bells and whistles of traditional depictions of Satan. What about the halo, you ask? That's usually featured over the heads of saints and angels in paintings, right? Well, just as a reminder, Lucifer was totes an angel before he was the king of hell, so maybe this fancy lamp is just all about iconic symbol accuracy—and complication. Oh, yeah, Lucifer was also the angel of light, and this is a lamp that casts some serious rays around the room. Just sayin'.

    The Boy With the Little Door

    This little door he now meaningly held before the old man, who, after staring at it a while, said: "Go thy ways with thy toys, child."

    "Now, may I never get so old and wise as that comes to," laughed the boy through his grime; and, by so doing, disclosing leopard-like teeth, like those of Murillo's wild beggar-boy's.

    "The divils are laughing now, are they?" here came the brogue from the berth. "What do the divils find to laugh about in wisdom, begorrah? To bed with ye, ye divils, and no more of ye." (45, 34-36)

    We're not gonna lie: staring into a mouthful of leopard teeth is terrifying. It's scarier still when the laughing leopard mouth belongs to a little kid. What's going on on this boat? And why does the kid crack dad-jokes that are beyond his years? We're not sure, but the angry dudes trying to sleep in the bunks nearby may have the right idea by calling this stuff devil's laughter. They also want to know who would laugh at—even mock—wisdom. Hmm, maybe someone who wants to pull the wool over your eyes? Check out what's going on under themes like "Foolishness and Folly" or "Education" to see how the supernatural fares in its acts deception.