Example Of Modern American Culture Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Confidence, Society, People, Business, Culture, Literature, City, Success

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/11/29

The Self-Reliant Man and the Confidence Man

Karen Halttunen (59) described the confidence man in her book ‘Confidence Men and Painted Women’ about the middle class culture of the rapidly industrializing 19th century America. On the other hand, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (73) ‘Self-Reliance’ glorifies the independence of choice and judgments of a person within the society in the 19th century to accommodate the rapidly evolving society. A relation of these two works by these authors reveals that the self-reliant man that Waldo describes is almost identical to the confidence man that Halttunen describes.
Halttunen describes three types of confidence men; the youth’s urban companion, the demagogue, and the gambler (11). P. T. Barnum falls under the category of a demagogue in accordance with her book. This is because he is involved in the championing of fake ideas and making profit out of ignorant persons within the rapidly sprawling urban cities. His charisma and wittiness put him and his business in significant success at the expense of unsuspecting customers and audiences. However, Barnum is also a man after his won heart while seeking for financial superiority. He is a man who is capitalizing on a talent he discovered at a young age; salesmanship. Using his skills to his own benefit within the then-new 19th century culture, he would be corroborating with Emerson’s righting that a ‘Man is his own star’ (1). This makes a bit of each man described by these two different authors.
Halttunen argues that P. T, Barnum was involved in the duping of customers regularly with fake claims and unfair pricing at his museums. He was adamant about making significant returns and always doing something bigger after each success. This made him greedy for the exploitable population that made its way to the blooming cities across the continents. This results in the duping of numerous people to believe that his shows, museums and circuses offered good prices for the presentation of allegedly ‘exotic’ art, objects and cultures. This is corroborated by the fact that he would lie to his clients about the artifacts that were fake duped of museum and circus entry fees. This shows that he was a two-faced individual, making him a demagogue. However, the extent of Barnum being a confidence man did not completely bear the features that Halttunen described. Indeed Barnum duped his clients over money; however, he was not involved in diminishing their morality or controlling them psychologically in a way that interferes with their traditional customs. This means that Barnum does not embody the features of a confidence man as Halttunen describes.
Barnum was amongst the trending figures of the era of industrialization taking the show business to another level. He was a promoter marred with numerous controversies about the legitimacy of his work. Lies and exaggeration were significant to his marketing strategy. This makes him a confidence man considering Halttunen’s descriptions. Show business would come to influence the culture of the society, but that was not Barnum’s sole fault as it the business has been available before, just not on such a large scale. This involved taking much time of the society in entertainment, and consequent extravagant entertainment budgets. Numerous people were bankrupted during induction into the industrialized culture; however, this can minimally be attributed to Barnum and his businesses in showbiz. His part in the collapse of society as it was before was in the promotion of spending in items that ignorant person had no idea lacked any value like artifacts.
On the other hand, Barnum appears to be the self-reliant man that Emerson describes. Barnum insisted on his ideas, and never sought to imitate. This is an exact description of a self-reliant man by Emerson (18). This shows that Barnum was dedicated on his idea of confronting the society to live a comfortable life with his family and friends. His work was not an easy one, and given his success, Emerson would admire strive of Barnum to be self-reliant. Strive of Barnum to achieve success left gave him the competitive edge against the society that was trying to remain conservative. Emerson’s work claims the quest for self-reliance ‘must not be hindered by the name of goodness’ (3). This is accordance to Barnum’s lies to attract attention of audiences and other customers. This shows that Emerson would describe Barnum as a self-reliant man.
The search for self-reliance is the other significant reason that brought people to industrialized areas. Numerous opportunities were available for all the people that went there. Having realized that he was a remarkable sales person, Barnum fits into the description of a man who cannot fight his nature (Emerson 7). This explains why he followed his dream from childhood to accomplish what he did in his later years. The lateness of other people to adapt to the changing structure of society does not label him as a confidence man in Emerson’s pages. Emerson says, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” (7). This gives any man the go-ahead to embrace their potential and reach for heights that set them apart from the goals and perspectives of another person. Living within the expectations of the society causes the numbing of creativity and lowers self-esteem. Having a cause to live for is the right way to live, as Emerson would describe Barnum’s life. This is because he did not engage in this business solely for the money, but had invested a significant amount of passion in it. This is elucidated by the exceptional work he produced and promoted that saw him perform for the queen of England. This is an achievement that Barnum wanted to achieve as a self-reliant man, and not as a confidence man. Emerson would undoubtedly classify P. T. Barnum as a liberal man bent towards achieving his personal goal in life.
Conclusively, Halttunen describes a society that wants to stay conservative to maintain the ideologies of the past within the society. Conversely, Emerson tries to explain that every man and his ideologies are worth something within the society. Growing up within a society where nothing changes and risks are not taken to have financial benefit. This shows that the self-reliant man must take the nature of a man who knows what he wants within the society. The interactions of the confidence man with other people within society are mostly for personal gain. He/ she do not have consideration for people that they do not care about within the society. Therefore, the confidence man and the self-reliant had a lot in common.

Works Cited

Emerson, Ralph W. Self Reliance. Hoboken, N.J.: BiblioBytes, 1999. Print.
Halttunen, Karen. Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-class Culture in America, 1830-1870. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. Print.

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