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Bodies of ReformThe Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age America$
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James B. Salazar

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780814741306

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814741306.001.0001

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Philanthropic Taste

Philanthropic Taste

Race and Character in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man

(p.36) 1 Philanthropic Taste
Bodies of Reform

James B. Salazar

NYU Press

This chapter explores the racializing dynamics of the rhetoric of character in Herman Melville's last completed novel, The Confidence-Man: Man: His Masquerade (1857). The Confidence-Man charts the promise and peril of relying on the legibility of character at a time when the terms of that legibility were themselves increasingly unreliable. Rather than simply portraying the social implications of this crisis of character, however, Melville interrogates the cultural work performed by the rhetoric of character by restaging its formal logic in the textual and interpretive dynamics produced by the novel itself. In delineating the literary dynamics of Melville's novel, the chapter ultimately aims to make visible the racializing effects of the confidence man's spectacular self-constitution as both a social agent and a literary character.

Keywords:   rhetoric of character, Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man, racializing dynamics, self-constitution, social agent

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