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Democracy's SpectacleSovereignty and Public Life in Antebellum American Writing$
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Jennifer Greiman

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780823230990

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823230990.001.0001

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/ Theatricality, Strangeness, and Democracy in Melville's Confidence-Man

/ Theatricality, Strangeness, and Democracy in Melville's Confidence-Man

(p.192) 5 / Theatricality, Strangeness, and Democracy in Melville's Confidence-Man
Democracy's Spectacle

Jennifer Greiman

Fordham University Press

In an unpublished manuscript fragment composed sometime in 1856, which may or may not have been intended as a chapter for The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville offers a brief sketch of a shifting, discontinuous, and very strange subject that, whatever the fragment's original relationship to the larger work, almost literally maps out the text's basic concern with the multiplicity and inconsistency of character. Melville's Confidence-Man provides a pointed reply to Tocqueville's claim that, singly and collectively, Americans are basically the same. While the opening chapters of The Confidence-Man stage the massing and dissolution of crowds, demonstrating their unmaking and exposing their contingency, the text never forgets the latency of the power with which they may compose themselves. In March 1857, one month before the April 1st publication of The Confidence-Man, the burden of that sovereignty became acute with Taney's majority ruling in the Dred Scott decision.

Keywords:   The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville, Tocqueville, Taney, Dred Scott, sovereignty

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