Confederacy Of Dunces Summary

John Kennedy Toole

Confederacy Of Dunces

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Confederacy Of Dunces Summary

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John Kennedy Toole’s modern classic satire A Confederacy of Dunces follows the life of Ignatius Reilly, a disgruntled, obese, self-proclaimed genius. Toole considered himself a failed author when he committed suicide in 1969. His mother found a draft of The Confederacy of Dunces and shared it with acclaimed novelist Walker Percy. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

The novel’s plot comes from the ridiculous actions of Ignatius Reilly as well as his humorous ruminations on all sorts of topics. He applies his abundant education to mundane subjects, resulting in frequent comical moments that comment on racial injustice, the futility of education, and the vanity of humans.

Ignatius Reilly is a 30-something man who lives with his mother in New Orleans (where Toole also grew up). The novel opens with Ignatius waiting around the D.H. Holmes department store for his mother. He is a very fat man, who admires his fine mustache, and always wears a red cap that often flaps over his face.

Officer Angelo Mancuso approaches him. Mancuso says he is a shady looking character and that unless he moves right now, he will be arrested. Ignatius insults the blue collar worker. Mancuso arrests Ignatius just as Ignatius’s mother leaves the store. They arrive at the police station where Mrs. Reilly pleads on behalf of her son. The Sergeant tells Mancuso that he is stupid, and he should arrest actual criminals. As punishment, the Sergeant forces Mancuso to wear a clown outfit.

Leaving the police station, Ignatius announces that he needs a drink to settle his “valve.” Throughout the book, Ignatius makes a big fuss about the maintenance of his “valve,” or his digestion; he goes so far as to call it holy.

Mother and son arrive at a bar, strip club combo named the Night of Joy. Ignatius knows Darlene, a stripper whom he has a crush on. They are also familiar with the bar owner, Lana Lee; Lee hates Ignatius.

Mrs. Reilly drives them home but, having had way too much to drink, crashes her car into an apartment complex. Officer Mancuso, still in clown gear, assists her from the wreck. He also helps Ignatius, though Ignatius mocks him. Mrs. Reilly agrees to pay the owner of the apartment complex for damages. However, she can only do so in installments, and Ignatius will have to get a job to help her pay. Ignatius, having a master’s degree in Medieval literature, is outraged that his genius is not being recognized.

After much chastising from his mother, Ignatius agrees to go on some interviews. He bombs each one because he insults the intelligence of his prospective employer. Despite this, he eventually captures a clerical job at Levy Pants. But instead of filing office memos as he’s supposed to, Ignatius writes derogatory letters to certain partners of the company while impersonating Mr. Levy. Later, Ignatius decides to impress his ex-girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff, by leading a worker revolt at Levy Pants. He encourages all of the black workers to rise up against their office manager, Mr. Gonzalez. The workers follow his lead, but quickly grow annoyed with Ignatius’s bossy attitude. Once he loses their support, the office manager fires Ignatius.

Now with more time on his hands, Ignatius hangs around town. Ignatius sees Officer Mancuso wearing a Santa Claus outfit to surprise would-be criminals. One day, he learns that after a long stake out at a bus station’s bathroom, Officer Mancuso contracted the flu. To comfort him, Ignatius loans him his most prized book — The Consolation of Philosophy, the sixth century text by the philosopher Boethius, written in the year he was awaiting execution. Understandably, the material throws Officer Mancuso into a deeper depression; the depression only gets worse when Gus, a child who acts as a courier for the black market, steals the book.

Later in the novel, we learn of Burma Jones, a black man who can be arrested at any time for anything because he is black. He is forced to work at the Night of Joy club for miserly wages. He loathes Lana Lee, and when he learns about some illegal business activity on her part, he works to expose her by writing the address of the Night of Joy club on all the packages that Gus delivers.

Ignatius is forced to work as a hot dog salesman. He pushes around a cart storing the hot dogs and wears a pirate uniform. He quickly gains weight because he eats most of the hot dogs rather than selling them.

Gus pays Ignatius to store some illicit packages. Ignatius peeks inside to see a naked photograph of a woman posing with a copy of The Consolation of Philosophy. He does not know it is Lana Lee. He decides that the figure posing is a cultured women, and he follows the address listed on the package to find her.

He is flustered to learn that the address takes him to the Night of Joy. He watches Darlene debut a striptease with a parrot. Furious that the cultured woman is not there and Darlene is showing herself to other people, Ignatius makes a huge scene, which concludes with the parrot attacking Ignatius, and Ignatius fleeing out into the street where he is almost hit by a bus.

Office Mancuso, in disguise, is propositioned by Lana Lee. He arrests her for prostitution. Burma Jones reveals the stash of porn she is also holding. The sergeant rewards Mancuso with a promotion, and Burma is told that from now on everytime he walks down the street he might not be arrested.

Recovering at home from the parrot attack, Ignatius is confronted by Mr. Levy, his former employer, who yells at him to admit he wrote the derogatory letter to one of his partners. Ignatius claims he did not write the letter and blames an old woman who works there, Miss Trixie.

Lucky for Ignatius, Miss Trixie is a pawn in the power struggle Mr. Levy has with his wife: he dislikes Miss Trixie, his wife thinks of her as a soul to be saved. By blaming her for the letter, Mr. Levy wins the domestic dispute with his wife.

Mr. Levy, wanting to keep up-to-date on current trends, changes the official name of his company to The Levy Shorts company. To placate his poorly paid black workers, he also founds a “good citizen” award and Burma Jones is the first recipient.

Mrs. Reilly is fatigued by Ignatius’ antics and decides to send him to an insane asylum. Fortunately, Myrna Minkoff shows up from New York asking Ignatius to come with her to New York. Normally he would not, but he senses that his mother wants to send him away, so Ignatius agrees. The two drive away just as ambulances from Charity Hospital arrive.