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Tricksters

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A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual operating alone or in collusion with others who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty, honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naïveté, or greed. In ‘The Umbrella Man’, by H.H Munro, the author shows that even an ordinary man, with the right tactics, can fool a suspicious person, the narrator’s mother in this case. This story is narrated by a young girl and we are able to see things, people and events from her perspective. The girl's horror at her mother's treatment of the old man, the assessment of her mother as a cold mannered woman who looks down even at boiled eggs and old men and the surprise at the antics of the old man are presented with simplicity and lightness. The first part of the story evokes sympathy for the old man and a dislike for the mother. But as the story proceeds, we realize that the old man is not so naive and that the mother's first impression of him was right. The story revolves around irony and deception.  We can appreciate the irony, the gap between appearance and reality, all the more keenly. The central irony concerns the way in which the old man insists that they take the umbrella for the money that they give him, and the way in which the girl is concerned that they are taking advantage of the old man.

The irony of the story is that of course they are not taking advantage of the old man--in fact, he is taking advantage of them to get more money for another drink from a pub. The irony is heightened by the mother's lecture to the daughter on being able to judge people correctly as the old man walks away, a lot faster and spryer than before. The mother is so pleased to have ‘judged’ the old man, she thinks, whereas she has been ‘taken in’ like so many others before. He is an elaborate con man who has successfully fooled them and manages to fund his drinking...