Study Guide

The Stockbroker, John Thurman in The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville

The Stockbroker, John Thurman

Talk about an opportunist. Mr. Thurman—whose name we're not given until he's actually exited the book—is less than lovingly dubbed Tassel, since he wears one on his cap. Why is that tassel so weird? Because it's flimsy and ridiculous and frivolous—just like our Mr. Thurman, unfortunately.

John Thurman is a stockbroker, and you probably won't be surprised to find out that in a book of cons and con-men, a stockbroker is almost by definition going to be doing the conning. Not to get too doom-and-gloom, but the various market crashes of recent and yesteryears don't leave us with much confidence in the shares Thurman is schlepping.

Add that to the super-ick way he divests an old and ailing man of his money without filling out any kind of paperwork, and you start to suspect that this broker is not looking out for your best interests.

We should sort one thing out really quickly: Thurman might be the smartest man in the room, and sometimes he can't help schooling people, but he really doesn't want to be seen as a know-it-all. During one conversation, the country merchant compliments Tassel by saying that he could listen to Thurman all day; it's almost like Thurman is a great preacher.

How does Thurman react? "[T]he other was pleased to find that he had not, as he feared, been prosing; but would rather not be considered in the formal light of a preacher; he preferred being still received in that of the equal and genial companion" (13, 11).

Okay, first off, points for not trying to spout off like you're some sage, Thurman. But hold up: if you look at his behavior closely, it starts to seem like the reason Thurman wants to seem like people's equal is that he doesn't want to come off as somebody who might have the ability to trick people into buying stocks. Got that? Yeah, he's tricking people into buying stocks partly by trying to seem like someone who's not smart enough to do that. Well, props, we guess, for being smart.

At least that what it looks like, anyway. You never can know for sure in Melville's world.