Study Guide

The Unfortunate Man, John Ringman in The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville

The Unfortunate Man, John Ringman

John Ringman—if that's even his real name—has a past. And that past is odd.

Basically, this dude's wife was horrible in rather vague and enigmatic ways—or so he says. The two of them had a daughter, and he's searching for her—or so he says. Now he needs some helping hands in the form of check, money order, or cash—no credit—to find her.

Weeds—as we like to call him—is probably the most emotionally manipulative con-man in the novel. He'll take your money and make you feel small for him even needing to ask.

Need proof? When the country merchant asks Weeds why he hasn't invested in Tassel's stock if it's so great and all, this is the reaction he gets:

Upon this, the stranger regarded him with mild gravity, not a little disconcerting; the more so, as there was in it what seemed the aspect not alone of the superior, but, as it were, the rebuker; which sort of bearing, in a beneficiary towards his benefactor, looked strangely enough; none the less, that, somehow, it sat not altogether unbecomingly upon the beneficiary, being free from anything like the appearance of assumption, and mixed with a kind of painful conscientiousness, as though nothing but a proper sense of what he owed to himself swayed him. (4, 50)

Weeds skewers the country merchant with a look—a look. And what a look it is, too. Weeds exhibits an air of dignity and righteous indignation at the country merchant for the country merchant's (likely accurate) gut reaction. Suddenly, Weeds is a man of honor whose moral code allows him to judge and sentence the country merchant with a stare.

Well, no one ever said con-men weren't hypocrites, but Weeds really takes it to another level.