chapter  7
42 Pages

Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

ByEric Cheyfitz

Writing in 1978, during the time when the US began its slide into the present state of income inequality, H. Bruce Franklin noted: "The Confidence-Man displays the rotten foundation of capitalist society and prophesies its end". It seems appropriate, then, to read Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, published in the United States on April Fool's Day of 1857, the year of a major financial crash, as a preface to the present moment, when "confidence" in US capitalism, indeed global capitalism, has reached a crisis. The Confidence-Man appears near the beginning of the developing economic catastrophe and would have been the perfect preface to it, that is, if anyone had read what was to be the "the tenth and last book of [Melville's] career as a professional man of letters". By way of implicitly affirming allegorical or deep readings of The Confidence-Man, Elizabeth Foster asserts that the novel "needs to be decoded".