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A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1 Viewer)


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"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him"
-Jonathan Swift

John Kennedy Toole was born in New Orleans in 1937 and died in 1969. He wrote that book,
A Confederacy of Dunces in the early sixties and tried unsuccessfully to get it published; depressed by his failure to do do, he committed suicide. His mother, who was certainly a bit like his hero's mother, was tenacious enough to get it published. The book eventually became a great success and found a deserved audience.

Ignatius J. Reilly is the "hero" of this story. He is , as Walker Percy said in his foreword for this edition : "a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one". That can give quite a measure of the character. If he is comical like Oliver Hardy, he is totally anaware of it and thinks his actions are logical and that all the catastrophes he is at the start of are well-deserved retributions for those who suffer from them.

He is also a Don Quixote because he is a rebel. His own private windmills are not like those giants that the original Don Quixote thought they stood for, but he is in revolt against the entire modern age, in which he cannot find any virtue and which is like hell for him. He is a kind of outcast, so he rejects a society that does not recognize him for his merits.

If he is a Thomas Aquinas it is because he resists all temptations which are commonplace in New Orleans. At the same time he finds it difficult to do so and would not mind indulging into them was he offered the opportunity. But he isn't. Because he is fat, deadbeat, a glutton who wears incredible clothes even tramps would not stoop to take.

So he is at war with everybody : Freud, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Protestants, and most of all, the numerous and shocking excesses of modern times. At first you can't help but dislike the character because he is full of excess and at the same time he is a coward. He does not want to face reality and escapes into his Big Chief Tablets in which he writes everything that he finds objectionable and what should be done about them.

But after reading a few more pages, he becomes ineteresting because he can say very deep and intelligent things and a moment later eruct against such or such incident his hatred of his condition and that of the world in general. I really started to like him when he began opposing his mother : she wanted him to find a job.

That is really at this point that the novel becomes highly funny because it shows how Ignatius is definetely not fit for work in any sense of the word. The gallery of characters at Levy Pants (jeans factory, I suppose) is worth a million : There is Mr Gonzalez, office manager who could never remember the name of his clerks and typists, Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant who writes figures anywhere but in the correct columns...

This book, each time I read it, makes me laugh and have a good time as well as wonder at the fact that the author could not get it published in his lifetime. Although it is not autobiographical, there is enough evidence that he put a lot of himself in his Ignatius character but in the end he lost his struggle against the confederacy of dunces that would not give him his chance. Pity, really.

Here is a link, to go further :