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The novel is a satirical work, and an allegory for the broader aspects of human nature and human identity. It reflects Herman Melville's views on morality, religion, cynicism, and other philosophical topics.
It is also notable for being a book dealing with nihilism and existentialism before other 20th century literature.
The full text can be read here.
Tropes used by the novel:
- April Fools' Day
- The Barnum
- Character Filibuster
- Come to Gawk: Passengers on the boardwalk come to just watch the crippled man from New Guinea.
- The Con
- Con Man
- Consummate Liar
- Contemplate Our Navels
- Double Meaning Title: He's a Con Man, and he tests people's confidence.
- The Farmer and the Viper: The bitter old cripple holds this attitude of distrust.
- Fictional Counterparts: Charlie Noble is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne; Mark Winsome is Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the beggar is Edgar Allan Poe.
- Gainax Ending
- Idealism vs. Cynicism: Herman Melvill wrote on the side of idealism.
- In Which a Trope Is Described:
"IN WHICH A VARIETY OF CHARACTERS APPEAR";
"IN WHICH THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF NATURAL SCENERY IS EVINCED IN THE CASE OF THE MISSOURIAN, WHO, IN VIEW OF THE REGION ROUND-ABOUT CAIRO, HAS A RETURN OF HIS CHILLY FIT."
"IN WHICH THE LAST THREE WORDS OF THE LAST CHAPTER ARE MADE THE TEXT OF DISCOURSE, WHICH WILL BE SURE OF RECEIVING MORE OR LESS ATTENTION FROM THOSE READERS WHO DO NOT SKIP IT."
- Manipulative Bastard: The Confidence-man, to a T
- Master of Disguise
- Mind Screw
- No Name Given: The Confidence-man has several aliases, but we never find out his true name.
- Phantom Thief
- The Philosopher
- Post Modern: Considered by some to be one of the first examples.
- Power of Trust: He sees just how much they will trust.
- Satire: Melville satirizes 19th century authors by making characters based on them.
- Secret Test: Each conversation he has.
- The Spook: No one knows a thing about his true identity.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: The man didn't even put a pun in this book without it having some kind of significant meaning. It's hard to catch, but the story is rife with symbolism of Eastern and Western religions.