A Confederacy of Dunces: Post 1

John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces is about as comedy as a book can get. It was published in 1980, 11 years after the unfortunate suicide of its author. However, despite the book’s tragic past, it provides itself as a fantastic read. One of the main contributors to the humor of the book is its main character, Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a big, fat, melodramatic, whiny, and all around terrible person. If I ever met him in real life, I would hate him. But yet somehow, inside the world of books, he’s one of the greatest main characters i have yet to come across. Ignatius is a highly educated man, which makes me, as the reader, laugh even harder when he constantly complains to his mother and needs her to cater to his every whim. He is almost the typical 30 year old deadbeat living in his mother’s house, but this particular deadbeat actually taught at a university for some time. He is so completely full complaints, judgement, and hot air that he makes you want to spit in his face and turn away. His education level, however makes every complaint and judgement come out almost as if it were a fact. What’s even better, though, is his imaginary health problems. Every time Ignatius is asked to do something that he would prefer not to do, his “valve” closes. He sometimes reminds me of a 6 year old little boy, who throws fits because he doesn’t want to do his chores, but he is a 6 year old boy who throws his fits while using words fit for a university professor’s vocabulary. This all makes Ignatius seem like a completely despicable character, (which he is), but some how he adds to the appeal of the novel.I think that Ignatius’s tantrums and complaints would make for a great comedic novel, but his educated and self-righteous air creates a huge juxtaposition, similar to that of say, “Strange Fruit.” In this case, though, instead of adding an eerie side of the story, Toole’s juxtaposition makes for an even funnier novel.


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13 responses to “A Confederacy of Dunces: Post 1

  1. julianasahni

    I have found A Confederacy of Dunces an enjoyable read so far. Ignatius, in my opinion, is quite annoying however. He’s very self absorbed and often expects his mother to do things for him. Ignatius has very strong opinions, but does not always have the best ways of portraying his ideas respectfully. He is both mature and extraordinarily immature at the same time. It is very interesting, because while it is a comedic book, it still is acknowledging heavier social justice issues. There are quite a bit of events bringing attention to racism on the book. For example, one African American man was accused and arrested of stealing cashews, despite having any evidence of him doing so. Another example would be the factory for the company Ignatius works for; where African Americans are victims of a more modern form of slavery. The juxtaposition of seriousness and comedy balances out pretty well in my opinion, and I look forward to reading more of the novel.

  2. clareogara

    While I agree with you, Sierra, in the sense that “A Confederacy of Dunces” is bloated, bumbling comedic novel (at least by 1960s standards), that depicts the lackluster life of an obese, literary, and ignorant Ignatius Reilly, I would also like to touch on the prevalent irony and impurity of every character in this piece of writing. As it seems, no single individual in this novel is exempt immoral thoughts or wastefulness. Rather than the story of a single “dunce” as John Kennedy Toole states it, I argue that every person who surrounds or interacts with Ignatius reflects this misfit-like state, truly making this novel the tale of a “Confederacy of Dunces.” From an alcoholic, money-wasting Mrs. Reilly, to the owner of a bar that serves watered down drinks to save money, to the figures of Levy pants, to Ignatius himself, all of these characters share a quality of low level scandal, victims to hard times and addiction.

    Personally, I somewhat despised every character of this novel. However, I don’t think that the point is to like them. Toole wants you to hate these characters, to yell at their ignorance and stupidity through the novels pages (something I’ll admit to doing far too much). This novel is designed to make you feel passion for another’s idiocy, while at the same time forcing the reader to reflect upon how they appear in the eyes of others. While I read, I began to question my own self and my motives. I wondered how others perceived me, hoping that wasn’t viewed as naïve and selfishly literate as Ignatius, or as pitiful as his mother. When you read about so called “bad characters” in other novels, you consider yourself to be so much higher than them, as if you could NEVER become as low as they have. But “A Confedaracy of Dunces” truly allows a individual to consider themselves in the scope of their universe, forcing one to recognize that thy must, at least to a degree, consider the views of others.

    Broadly, “A Confederacy of Dunces” is a novel regarding the so called “American Dream,” similar to that of “The Great Gatsby.” All of the characters seek a specific dream for themselves, although they all crave a similar thing; money. Every last character requires money, for multiple reasons, dependent on their situations. Ignatius wants to write a novel, Mrs. Reilly needs to pay a fine, Lana needs her bar to be successful, and Darlene hopes to be a dancer in a club. Every character has a problem, and is attempting to find a resolution, to seek greatness and high status in society. This novel truly depicts the idea of how different the idea of the American Dream can be for differing people. While Ignatius is focused on the most, I argue that there is no true main character of this novel. This is merely a story of societal misfits, victims of social normalities and class systems , all unknowingly weaved together by unfortunate events.

  3. I agree with Juliana in that the juxtaposition between two contrasting elements of the book helps to create a new perspective. I also find the character Ignatius to be immature and ignorant. While these traits do contribute largely to the humor of the book, I think that some of Ignatius’s values are childish and not as prominent as they should be. For instance, his attitude towards his mother, Mrs. Reilly, is largely based on his selfishness and his lack of empathy for her. He frequently places his needs before others. Like Clare mentioned, I too found myself hoping that I never come across as overly selfish like Ignatius. The author’s obvious stating of his bad qualities causes the reader to consider their own qualities and come to conclusions about how they are perceived in society. All in all, I do enjoy the novel so far but am looking forward to see how Ignatius grows throughout the course of the story.

  4. clareogara

    A Confederacy of Dunces part 2

    As we conclude yet another stage of this novel, I would like to direct this blog post’s focus to one area that makes this story, for me, truly quizzical;
    Ignatius’s ignorance.
    So, I believe its fairly safe to assume that the majority of those who read A Confederacy of Dunces absolutely despise Ignatius. As a main character, he isn’t terribly heroic, to say the least -although he believes himself to be. He’s an erratic character, certainly; antagonizing, arrogant, and completely unobservant into the world that surrounds him. He shows no outward affection to others, and above all things,
    he gets away with it.
    Throughout the novel, many individuals try to counter Ignatius, to stand up against his thoughtlessness. Characters like Myrna, Mrs. Reilly, and the laborers of Levy Pants all attempt to make his faults known to him, but none of them succeed. he even receives supernatural signs that his actions are detrimental, when he dreams of Myrna pushing him in front of a moving train or getting into various collisions with buses or taxis. Even unknown forces seem convinced that his current state will destroy him, but he disregards these warnings completely. For so long, I wondered why this was. Why couldn’t Ignatius realize his faults and improve upon them? Was he simply stubborn? Unyielding? This question plagued me until I was reminded of a certain saying;
    Ignorance is bliss.
    Ignatius, I soon discovered, was not idiotic. He was a well educated man with a remarkably high vocabulary, and many of his insights are genuinely perceptive. The trouble is, merely, that he is completely unobservant. While he is intelligent, Ignatius cannot truly see the world that surrounds him. However, whats more, is that his blindness does not discourage him, simply because he does not know that it exists.
    For Ignatius, ignorance is genuine bliss.
    It is interesting to note how much more confident and content Ignatius is than the other characters of the novel. This is because, while he is blind to his faults, Ignatius is also blind to the idea of failure. He is so unwilling to fail, and I now realize for myself how misled I have been to his true character. While I still believe his views to be unreasonable and inconsiderate, I now understand that there is far more to Ignatius than I previously reasoned.

    ( A brief footnote:
    I would also like to bring to our attention to one more aspect of Ignatius’s character. I understand that many of his traits are overbearing and antagonizing, but he is lacking, I notice, one specific quality that would be typical for those of his time. This novel takes place in the 1940s-1960s, a time in which discrimination was widely known. However, Ignatius is not racist, which I found odd considering that it would only improve a reader’s hatred toward him, from an author perspective. But Ignatius, in fact, often defends the African Americans who work at Levy pants. Why is this? If anyone has a comment, I would greatly enjoy it.)

    • sierrajkelly

      I’m glad you pointed out that Ignatius isn’t racist, Clare. I had not realized that, but it is true. At least, from what I have seen of the novel. Perhaps he just hasn’t come across enough African Americans in the novel for is to realize that he shares the same prejudices as his peers. However, assume that he is indeed not racist, it could be attributed to his education. Ignatius is extremely well educated, even though he seems ignorant of everything but himself. Could perhaps his schooling have taken him to a place where he realized everyone is equal?
      Another reason he is so blind to racial predjudice may be because he thinks so highly of himself. In Ignatius’s mind, everyone is of lesser importance than he. He treats his mother with huge disrespect, along with just about everyone in his life. He may treat African Americans as equal to, say, his mother, simply because he treats his mother so horribly.
      I also find it interesting how Ignatius does indeed treat his fellow humans awfully, but has such compassion for a stray cat. There is an instance when it is stated he picks a stray cat from the gutter, and begins to feed it hot dogs. Our protagonist, who so disrespectfully regards his peers, plucks a dirty stray from a gutter and cares for it. I think this is the author’s way of pointing out that Ignatius feels out of place amoung his fellow humans. He may treat them so horribly because he doesn’t know how to get along with them, and simply convinces himself that it’s because he’s better than them.

  5. julianasahni

    I agree with Clare, Ignatius is frustratingly ignorant. As I continued to read the novel I had hopes that his character would develop more and become more mature, but that was not the case unfortunately.
    To address Clare’s question: it does seems strange to me that Ignatius is not racist. However, we must remember that Ignatius is also horribly selfish. So, when he arranged the protest at Levy Pants, I at first thought it seemed out of character and slightly heroic. Though it may seem that way, Ignatius’s true motives were to get back at his ex girlfriend and essentially prove himself to her.
    I too would like to discuss some of Ignatius’s character traits. Let’s put it this way, if this were not a school assignment I would probably be using a few curse words to describe him. The author has crafted a whiny, needy character who must always be right. Not only that, but Ignatius looks for ways to be outraged and offended by others. He is so immature that it is hard to think of him as a realistic character. I do believe that the author did not intend him to be believable and realistic though. Ignatius is reliant on others and will not hesitate to bend the truth to get what he wants.
    I would also like to bring up Ignatius’s mother, Mrs. Reilly. Though she often shows humiliation for her son, she too is at fault. I believe that Ignatius’s behavior is a result of how he was raised, and Mrs. Reilly agreed to baby her son for too long. Mrs. Reilly also is a bit of a hypocrite. She gets angry with Ignatius about his new job, but he the one in the family doing any work to bring in money. Though Mrs. Reilly is deep in debt she continues to stay at home and put little effort into making money. Although Ignatius may not be the best employee, he still does more than Mrs. Reilly and it does seem rude of her to never be pleased with her son.

    • I agree with all of you! I had high hopes on the fact that this novel would be another great journey from a ignorant, hated character to a heroic protagonist who would win over the hearts of the readers (an excellent example of this is Professor Snape from the Harry Potter books). However, it appears that Ignatius will remain, rather, a Mr. Filch-esque character for the rest of the book, which is extremely frustrating to read! We as avid readers have become accustomed to a main character that acts like a knight and shining armor, and is very complex with many depths and layers to analyze. To put it simply, Ignatius is annoying. His ignorance and selfishness seems to be the center of the book. Even more “annoying” however, is the fact (as Clare mentioned) that he chooses to live this way. For Ignatius to truly mature, his willingness to do so must come from within. Unfortunately, so far, it does not seem as if there is a likeliness of this happening.
      However frustrating this may be, it also is a very accurate depiction of the human race. While we all want a main character to be someone who makes us feel good about ourselves and brings out the best in us, it is extremely eye-opening to have a novel focused on someone like Ignatius, who a representation of one of the greatest downfalls of society; ignorance.

  6. clareogara

    Needless to say, I believe this final segment of A Confederacy has dumbfounded all of us. It is a quizzical ending, if anything, one unlike any that I have ever read. Here we see Ignatius; the ignorant, careless, and vile character who we have all come to despise, slipping away from his struggles and literally traveling into the sunset amid the backseat of Myrna’s vehicle. As it seems, all turns out all right for Ignatius in the end- he gets the girl, escapes time within an asylum, and any pain he previously had is resolved (Toole makes a note of stating that his quaking headache had miraculously left him and his mysterious “valve” finally opens). Toole’s concludes this novel in an exceptionally poetic way, describing the beauty of lit streetlamps and the scent of fresh salt marshes, ultimately resulting in the main character romantically nuzzling his face into the tendrils of his love-interest’s hair. It’s a satisfying ending for any other story, but it doesn’t seem fitting for this one. Like so many things in this novel, Ignatius is the only thing “messing it up.” His mere presence makes the scene appear perverse and unfair. However, this is the case for the majority of A Confederacy. Ignatius screws up everything- Levy pants, the reputation of the eerie bar, nearly everything in Mrs. Reilly’s life. As it seems, Toole’s intention was show once again how Ignatius fails to leave anything intact. As Mrs. Reilly states, “Whatever it is, Ignatius done it” (Toole 370).
    However, not every character in the novel believes this to be true. To a degree, characters like Mr. Levy actually perceive Ignatius as a hero, that serves as a savior to many people, which he does, at least somewhat. Levy claims, ” that Reilly kook had really been worth saving after all. He had saved himself, Miss Trixie, and Mr. Levy, too, in his kook way” (377). So, is Ignatius a hero? This is how I would like to direct our posting this weekend. Does his “saving” of these characters make him deserving of his fate? Or was it merely that ignorance that we disused earlier that leads to his apparent heroism? Evidently, I believe how you view Ignatius and his motives says a lot about yourself and how your read that book. Do you value knowledge or compassion, individualism or equality, maturity or innocence? I now understand that Toole uses Ignatius as a catalyst to understand the self as it varies from person to person. From a first glance, I know that all of us would immediately be anti-Ignatius. But I challenge all of us to examine him further; What does he really mean? Are there some aspects of his character that you may agree with, even though you wished you could deny it? Who is this man to you? What does he represent? If we consider it thoughtfully, I feel that we may each find our own individual answers.

    • sierrajkelly

      Ignatius is no hero. It is obvious through the novel, and though those like Mr. Levy somehow see him as a heroic idealist, alas, that is not the truth. Ignatius is a comment on humanity. He represents many of the horrible things and flaws humans posses. This is perhaps why the ending makes sense, and to me, why it indeed was satisfying. I found that Ignatius’s happy ending showed how humans don’t often get what we deserve. Ignatius’s, in his awful ways, receives a fairy tale ending, riding into the sunset with Myrna. I hope we all agree that he doesn’t deserve such an ending based on his behavior, which is why I think Toole decided that would be a proper way to end the book. He leaves us as the audience almost disgusted and upset with the end of the novel. We are so used to a hero, receiving this happily ever after as a reward for a good deed that it makes Ignatius’s happily ever after disturbing. However, unlike you, Clare, I found it satisfying. I thought that it was the perfect ending for a book filled with Ignatius’s getting more than he deserves and others suffering. It kept a continuity through the novel and tied it off perfectly.
      To answer your question, Clare, no. He is not a hero. Ignatius’s is a perfect example of the anti-hero. The only way he saves the people he does is indirectly. He ‘saved’ Mr. Levy by writing a horrid letter to another company that would have made Mr. Levy go bankrupt, which led to Mr. Levy having to alter his behavior. Save for the case of Ms. Trixie, Ignatius’s saving of people is only a result of the horrible things he did to said people. In addition, judging from the horrible ways he treated a majority of the other characters in the novel, the harm he does far outweighs the good.
      It is possible to argue Ignatius is a hero, but those who do must prepare to either lose that argument, or argue very well.

  7. I had mixed feelings about the end of the novel. It felt rushed and incomplete and left questions unanswered. I also would have wanted a different ending for Ignatius, for his escape with Myrna just seemed to be another way he had been avoiding problems throughout the book. However, this is also the reason the ending seemed to match the entirety of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” While I was hoping for Ignatius to fix some of his wrongdoings, it also would have seemed forced.
    To address whether or not Ignatius is a hero, I think that he is more of an accidental one. His heroism is mostly due to his ignorance and coincidental actions. Additionally, I agree with Clare, in the fact that most readers immediately hate Ignatius. This is more so because this character’s main traits include all of the qualities that we as humans find most loathsome in a main character: ignorance, selfishness, lack of compassion. The reason we may despise him is because all of us possess some of these characteristics within us and are quick to point it out when someone else displays them.
    Lastly, I would like to discuss the way in which Mrs. Reilly leaves Ignatius. I think that we can all agree that she was shown as a timid figure in the presence of her son, while Ignatius was the antagonist. However, I think Mrs. Reilly might have been more to blame than her son. It was continuously shown in “A Confederacy of Dunces” that she resented him and thought of him as an embarrassment. This neglectful behavior might have played a part in Ignatius’s attitude in the novel. The mother and son never put their full effort into talking and sorting out problems between them, leading to a lack of bonding that resulted in Mrs. Reilly’s decision to send Ignatius to a mental hospital and to marry Claude.

  8. julianasahni

    Like Kriti, I am fascinated by Mrs. Reilly’s. Her motives for putting Ignatius in hospital were not for Ignatius to get help, but so that she would not have to deal with her son. So, her intentions were to simply ditch her son and run off. I too agree that she should have tried to mend her relationship with Ignatius and talk to him, rather than shoving him into someone else’s care.
    I found A Confederacy of Dunces an interesting read simply because the main character was easy to despise. It was strange not wanting to root for the main person. It is hard to tell who the antagonist of the book is, I think it depends on the reader. I was disappointed that Ignatius’s issues were not really brought to attention but it was a good decision that the author made. Realistically, those problems would not be solved in such a short amount of time, and Ignatius as a character is so stubborn that I doubt he would admit to being flawed.
    The ending of the novel was so sudden I found myself a bit confused.I suppose Ignatius got a happy ending-he escaped going to the hospital, got the girl- but was he really deserving of it? I did not think so. This novel definitely did not follow what one would expect reading a book, but I think that made it much more intriguing.

  9. sierrajkelly

    A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole in its twistedway, is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The novel takes place in Late-1900’s New Orleans, Louisiana. The story is mainly a following of the many misadventures taken by the main character, the bulbous and arrogant Ignatius Reilly. Reilly is a well educated man, quite rotund and in his thirties, who cannot for the life of him hold a job. He has an idealist perspective and lives with his elderly mother, who is beginning to get fed up with him. As his mother searches for love, with the help of two close friends, one being a police officer who tried to arrest Ignatius, the protagonist takes on various odd jobs to help support himself. His many plights result in disaster for many who know Ignatius, including his employers, his mother, and himself. Despite his intelligence, Reilly is very much ignorant of the world surrounding him.
    John Kennedy Toole is a master of satire and slapstick. His novel is a sidesplitter, with just enough sickness to make it even more hilarious. Descriptions of Ignatius make the reader wonder just why the care about the character enough to keep reading, and mainly discover they keep reading because they don’t care about him. Toole does a fantastic job creating the ultimate anti-hero in his one of his two novels, the other being The Neon Bible.
    A Confederacy of Dunces is an eight out of ten star book. It deserves high praise, and a pat on the back for its humor. If I may say, I would concede that it also deserves a bit of a slap in the face. It is a perfect mix of rudeness and humor, and a much needed break from the seriousness of society to laugh at one, particularly stupid and smart character.

  10. julianasahni

    A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was certainly an interesting read. The main story revolves around Ignatius Reilly, who was the most ignorant yet educated character I have ever come across. The book touched on many people’s different struggles and often revealed how we as humans may be selfish or ungrateful. The book also weaved in a few social justice issues.
    It was a humorous read for sure, but not necessarily the type of humor that appeals to me individually. It is always interesting to read a book where one does not like the protagonist that much, so that was fun.
    There were a lot of different intersecting storylines in the novel, and I was hoping they would work out but I found it hard to follow at some points. Not to mention the rushed ending. I did enjoy the more challenging language of the book though.
    Like Clare said, I believe A Confederacy of Dunces is a book that will make one evaluate all the characters, and then evaluate their own actions. I definitely found myself thinking of my own character traits while reading the novel.
    In my opinion, the story of A Confederacy of Dunces had a great amount of potential, but as the book progressed I found reading it felt less fun and more like it was a chore. I would give it six stars out of ten because of the complex characters and stories. I am not sure whether I would recommend this novel to a ton of people, but I’m sure it does appeal to many.

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