Standard interpretations of The Confidence-Man posit a series of avatars representing one ubiquitous figure. While this figure has taken different shapes—first devil and then trickster—critics have held on to the form of this reading. They work to secure the consistency that Melville aggressively rejects when he openly criticizes unrealistic, flat characters. Ultimately in The Confidence-Man, Melville develops a contrast between consistent characters that we can know and inconsistent, complex characters who evade and escape labels. We notably do not encounter the same demands for coherence or legibility online, where blurring identity categories is not always framed in terms of lies, cons, or misrepresentations. Instead, people are expected to perform allegedly incompatible roles. These responses to online avatars prompt new questions about the characters in Melville's text. For example: Which performances are defined by impossible or restrictive standards? And how do Melville's complex characters reveal important problems and pressures when they fail to cohere?


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pp. 32-42
Launched on MUSE
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