"It is good to be shifty in a new country" is the credo of the foremost literary example of a confidence man, Captain Simon Suggs of Tallapoosa. The confidence man appears throughout Southwestern humor -- as gambler, doctor, horse trader -- any occupation which he can mimic and convert for his own benefit. The confidence man is a performer in every sense of the word and takes full advantage of a pose of naivete. The confidence man is created during a time in history when the individuals of American society are suffering from identity crises. Who one is is no longer dependent upon a family name or birthplace. Particularly in the frontier community, people settle near one another with varied backgrounds and must develop different methods of proving themselves important in their society. From this attempt comes much of the bravado, hyperbole and violence of the southwestern humor sketches -- full of men attempting to validate themselves as important, strong or talented to the world around them.
Johnson Jones Hooper invents a character of some complexity to which the reader feels an oddly disinterested attraction. Suggs is deplorable, coniving and a swindler. Yet Suggs' acknowledgement and acceptance of his own depravity lends a sort of honesty to his characterization that connotes a peculiar sense of respectibility. Suggs is representative of everyman's search for identity as he tries on various roles within his society.
Hooper describes in great detail this charlatan who can emerge a low-class derelict desiring to repent of his sin or convince others of his high position in society as a town doctor. Suggs'
...head is somewhat large, and thinly covered with coarse, silver-white hair, a single lock of which lies close and smooth down the middle of a forehead which is thus divided into a couple of very acute triangles, the base of each of which is an eye-brow, lightly defined...Beneath...a pair of eyes with light-grey pupils and variegated whites...lids without lashes complete the optical apparatus...The nose...is long and low, with an extremity of singular acuteness, overhanging the subjacent mouth... [which]measures about four inches horizontally. An ever present sneer--not all malice, however--draws down the corners, from which radiate many small wrinkles that always testify to the Captain's love of the 'filthy weed'.
Not only using Suggs as a confidence man, Hooper, (like all the Southwest humorists), hoped to use his writings to promote his own political ideas -- those of the Southern Whig party. The description of Suggs achieved an undeniable comparison to Andrew Jackson in the minds of readers in the 1840's. In the first chapter, Hooper writes, "...future generations of naughty children who will persist in sitting up when they should be a-bed, will be frightened to their cribs by the lithograph of 'Major General Andrew Jackson,' which their mammas will declare to be a faithful representation of the Evil One--an atrocious and comparatively well-favoured, prince of the infernal world."
Some Adventures of Simon Suggs is Hooper's book of Simon Suggs stories; published in 1845. The book is set up as a campaign biography and takes the reader from childhood to middle age in the humorous -- yet always corrupt -- life of Simon Suggs. Often associated with his role as the reformed sinner in "The Captain Attends a Camp-Meeting", Suggs is a notoriously insincere man. Many years later, Mark Twain was to base his chapter "The King Turns Parson" in Huckleberry Finn on Hooper's humorous revival sketch of Suggs. Like Twain, Hooper is using this sketch to parody religious zealots. However, Hooper is also mocking Democratic political rallies in his story.