The failure of identity in The Confidence-Man has confounded readers since its publication. To some critics, Melville's titular character has seemed to leave his readers in a hopelessness without access to confidence, identity, trust, ethical relationality, and, finally, without anything to say. I argue, however, that Melville's text does not leave us without hope. My argument, consequently, is inextricably bound to a reading of Melville's text as deeply engaged with the concepts it inherits from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, an inheritance woefully under-examined by those critics who would leave Melville's text in the mire of hopelessness. In examining how these two texts bind themselves together while simultaneously cutting against each other, my reading finds in The Confidence-Man an alternative way of responsibly living, one that eschews the fatal task of shoring up either our confidence or our embarrassment in favor of an inauthentic redeployment of identity that laughs at both the embarrassment in our confidence and the confidence in our embarrassment.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Sandberg, Truedson J., ""What do the divils find to laugh about" in Melville's The Confidence-Man" (2018). All Theses and Dissertations. 6978.
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, identity, ethics, critique, deconstruction