An aesthetic analysis of The Confidence-Man
Rugeley, Terry L.
Ward, Joseph A.
Master of Arts
Since F. O. Matthieson's American Renaissance the standard critical approach to Herman Melville is to see his creativity as the child of irresolvable Manichaean conflicts. However, this view can distort The Confidence Man, for though the novel builds on the clash of art and reality, it nonetheless establishes regularities in their relationship: Art makes life comprehensible by removing practicalities and focusing instead on elements that are common to the whole of experience. Considered as such, the Confidence-Man embodies the aesthetic object. His maneuvers are often mysterious (impractical) and hence suggest the indirect and puzzling meanings of art; his arguments appeal not to particulars but force the victim to consider general principals. This critical amendment is no less nihilistic than the traditional viewpoint, though, for the picture the Confidence-Man clarifies is always the purposelessness and duplicity of experience.