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Literature: A Confederacy of Dunces
This page needs proper geometry and theology!

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

Published in 1980, 11 years after the suicide of author John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces is often hailed as one of the funniest novels ever written.

Set in New Orleans in the mid-1960s, the plot follows the misadventures and disasters of Ignatius J. Reilly, an over-educated, offensive and puritanical (not to mention grotesquely fat) slob as he is sent out by his mother to find work to pay for damages caused by a car crash. In his quest Reilly provides the catalyst for a range of sub-plots involving hot-dog vendors, university protests, factory owners, pornographers, and sociopathic lesbians as he wages war on modern culture across the city. His ghastly personal habits and complete marginal ability to notice the existence of other people stun the gentle reader.

Tropes:

  • All Gays Are Promiscuous
  • Alliterative Name: Myrna Minkoff, Lana Lee, and Betty Bumper.
  • American Accents: Toole does a decent job of reflecting the unique sound and speech patterns of Yat (working-class New Orleans English) without diving into full-on Funetik Aksent. Also, see Jive Turkey below.
  • Bad Boss: Lana Lee. She makes Jones work for peanuts and threatens to take him into the police when he complains. She also makes Darlene work on commission and beats her up "offscreen" when she botches a line.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Reilly, who yearns for a time before the Enlightenment, preferably with a monarchy.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Happens to Reilly progressively over the course of the book, though most of it is his own fault.
    • Also Mrs. Levy, whose Henpecked Husband fights back in a glorious way when Ignatius (rather improbably) provides him with the means to shatter her pretensions.
  • Brick Joke: Most of the jokes/plot points beyond the first few chapters are started long before they actually come into play. The more you can remember from earlier in the book, the funnier it is.
  • Black Comedy Prison Rape: The implied fate of Lana Lee in the prison cell with Frieda, Betty and Liz.
  • Butch Lesbian: The local gay community includes several of these.
  • Camp Gay: Dorian Greene is the prime example, though everyone at his party (except Ignatius) is flamboyantly homosexual.
  • Celibate Hero: Reilly has a love-hate relationship with Myrna and fantasizes sexually about her, but can't bring himself to have sex with her in spite of her willingness. The ending suggests that this might change.
  • Cheap Costume: Mancuso is forced to parade around in a series of these as punishment for what happens in the first scene of the book with Ignatius.
    • To say nothing of Ignatius selling hot dogs dressed like a pirate/gypsy.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Ignatius' copy of The Consolations of Philosophy,
    • Darlene's "dance" routine
    • Ignatius' letter from Levy Pants.
  • The Chew Toy: Patrolman Mancuso, oh so very much.
  • The City: New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Just try to read the chapter where Ignatius blithely eats all the hot dogs in the Paradise Vendors cart without cracking up. It's impossible.
    • Made doubly funny by his attempt to "adopt" a stray cat by stuffing it in the vending cart alongside the hot dogs.
  • Consummate Liar: Ignatius is shockingly good at lying in order to further his own ends. Too bad he tends to screw up the execution.
  • Covert Pervert: Ignatius' moralistic facade hides his bizarre masturbatory fantasies.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: One of Ignatius' more common responses to frustration and disappointment.
  • The Ditz: Darlene.
  • Dirty Communists: Mr. Robichaux loves to accuse people he doesn't like of being "communiss."
  • Dye Hard: Apparently, Mrs. Levy has been dying her hair platinum-blonde for so long that she forgot that she was a natural brunette.
  • Dysfunction Junction: There is absolutely no one in this book that is quite right in the head, and pretty much everyone has issues to work out. In the end, many of them do (or are at least well on their way to getting better).
  • Extreme Doormat: Mr. Gonzalez is insanely tolerant of Ignatius and Miss Trixie's antics.
  • Fatal Flaw: Much of Ignatius' troubles would be resolved if he understood that his own actions actually had consequences and accepted his need to improve himself.
  • Fetish Retardant in-universe example: Darlene's striptease isn't appreciated too much by Burma Jones and Lana Lee.
  • Freudian Excuse: Ms. Annie, of all people, explains that most of Ignatius' bizarre habits and beliefs can be traced back to the death of his dog, Rex, as well as (what he felt was) the inappropriate response to his loss from his pastor and his mother.
    • Gus Levy himself has one in regards to his (mis)management of Levy Pants: his father who would insultingly reject any of his business advice. Thus Gus develop a disinterest in his company.
  • Freud Was Right: invoked Or so Mrs. Levy believes. She took a correspondence course in psychology (which she failed) and constantly tries to apply her "knowledge" to her husband and Miss Trixie. Of course, there's a real Freudian moment when it's revealed that, with the right makeup and a wig, Miss Trixie looks almost exactly like Mrs. Levy's mother.
  • Gasshole: Ignatius and his "temperamental valve".
  • Gayborhood: The French Quarter isn't one of these, but the fact that the Quarter attracts "characters" did actually help form a gay community there. Dorian Greene's party arguably shows a sort of intermediate stage in its development.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: No one is really a bad guy, but very few people seem to be actively working towards any good either. It makes it difficult to say who the heroes or the villains are in this story, but it works quite well.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Woman, actually. Miss Trixie hasn't been allowed to retire due to the insistence of Mrs. Levy; as a result, she becomes increasingly hostile and senile towards everyone except Ignatius.
  • Happy Ending: For the most part.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Mrs. Reilly, Ignatius' mother, is accused of this by Ignatius and Ms. Annie. It is unclear how true their accusations are, but she seemed to have no qualms about getting plastered at the Night of Joy, early on in the book.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Ignatius keeps warning people to stop "molesting" him.
  • Henpecked Husband: Mr. Levy.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ignatius, repeatedly, though he seems to think he just has bad luck.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Everyone seems to catch the stupid when Ignatius comes around with his insane ideas, at least long enough for him to convince them to do what he wants them to do.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Reilly is obsessed with the chastity of every woman around him, especially those he sees in movies. He sees no contradiction with his obvious sexual fantasizing or obsession with Myrna.
    • Reilly's speech to Mancuso at the beginning of the book is hilariously hypocritical, as he fits into at least two or three of the categories of people he rails against.
    • Reilly rails against modern Western civilization - while watching Batman and Yogi Bear.
  • Jerkass: Reilly is the ultimate example, though most others in the book qualify at points.
  • Jive Turkey: Burma Jones. Pages and pages of the book are written in his own, hysterical, highly N'orleen-accented first person. "Woah! You don't gotta be like that. Hoo-wee!"
  • Large Ham: Ignatius, figuratively and literally.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Lana Lee and George get their just desserts in the end. Though due to Values Dissonance, the crime they go down for, distributing pornography to high school kids, is much less villainous than their other actions from a modern perspective.
    • Ignatius suffers this as well, on a fairly regular basis... not that he understands the misfortune that befalls him is pretty much all his own fault.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is taken from a Jonathon Swift quote.
  • Lord Error-Prone: Reilly has many of these attributes, but without any of the influence and power.
  • Loser Protagonist: Ignatius.
  • Malaproper: Darlene keeps screwing up the lines she is supposed to deliver as the Southern stripper character "Harlot O'Hara." Thankfully, no one seems to notice.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Ignatius, surprisingly, seems to be very good at getting people to do what he wants them to do... at least, in the short run.
  • Meaningful Rename: Dorian Greene gave himself the name as a Shout-Out to The Picture of Dorian Gray. It suggests his pleasure-seeking, homosexual lifestyle.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe example - Ignatius' constant references to "Fortuna" demonstrate he didn't understand what Boethius' work was actually about.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Jones tells Patrolman Mancuso about Lana Lee's illegal porn business.
  • Never My Fault: Ignatius is the king of this. His mother calls him out when he blames his problems on Myrna, who isn't even in town.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: As far as we know, the stray cat Ignatius stuffed in the hot dog cart got away fine.
  • Odd Friendship: Ignatius and Miss Trixie, though Ignatius is mostly just using her.
  • Only Sane Employee: Mr. Gonzalez, who has to deal with the stubborn Ignatius, the senile Miss Trixie, and the aloof Mr. Levy, whose only motivation for keeping Levy Pants alive becomes giving Mr. Gonzalez a job.
  • Only Sane Man: Mr. Levy. He's about the only character to feel compassion for Ignatius without being taken in by his fabrications.
    • Also, Patrolman Mancuso. Even then, he's a complete idiot in every other department.
    • Burma Jones would also qualify.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Frieda, Betty and Liz. Well, not so much "psycho" as incredibly violent and stereotypical for butch lesbians.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ignatius' mother gives him a good one towards the end.
    Mrs. Reilly: You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Ignatius seems to have a very different account of events than what actually happened, though it's unclear if it's an example of this trope, plain old Blatant Lies, or a combination of both.
  • Serial Escalation:
    • You will not believe the ways in which the plot threads interact with each other, or how they all manage to tie up so well in the end.
    • Also, despite being by far the heaviest person in the book in the beginning, Ignatius manages to gain even more weight as the story progresses especially after he gets his job at Paradise Vendors.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Reilly's preferred method of speech.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous, but the most obvious one that isn't a direct reference is Dorian Greene, who was named for the title character in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  • The Sixties: The time in which the book was written, as well as when it takes place.
  • Spicy Latina: Deconstructed with a waitress who works at Lana Lee's bar. She speaks in a combination of colorful Spanish phrases and You No Take Candle English. Toole initially describes her as vaguely flirtatious and wearing high-heeled sandals, so we get the sense that she's a sexpot. However, beauty is only skin-deep: she's loud, pushy, and has really bad breath.
  • Strawman Political:
    • Ignatius and Myrna hold political and philosophical positions that are both almost too absurd to be believed. Ignatius believes that Western civilization took a wrong turn at the Renaissance, favors the return of feudal monarchy, and believes the Catholic Church to be insufficiently strict at a time (the book probably takes place in 1963, during Vatican II) when most Catholics felt quite the opposite; Myrna is a combination of a Straw Feminist and a free-love hippy whose favorite activity—besides sleeping with random men—is organizing protests and rallies of various sorts (usually about how sex can solve everything).
    • Also, the old man from the beginning of the book who tries to stand up for Ignatius and whom Mrs. Reilly ends up running off to marry. He has a bizarre obsession with the "communiss." Some of the bystanders who see him get arrested feel sorry for him, though, especially since he has some beloved Catholic "grandchirren."
  • Sword Fight: Ignatius with a plastic sword vs. Clyde with his giant two-pronged fork. For no reason at all. (Well, maybe one particular reason....)
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Ignatius is a devotee of Dr. Nut, a soft drink company that was popular mid-century in the New Orleans area.
  • Unreliable Narrator: While everyone embellishes the truth a bit, any story told by Ignatius is guaranteed to be at least 50% untrue. His grandiose language and mannerism helps him to over-dramatize his problems.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Ignatius, obviously.
  • Unusual Euphemism: It is implied by Ignatius' outrage while reading Myrna's letters that, any time she describes a man as being "very real", there is a better than average chance that she has slept with him. Considering her position on sexuality, this isn't surprising.
  • Watering Down: One of the many ways Lana Lee tries to make a profit on her "investment".
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: The plot of the book focuses on Ignatius getting various jobs to pay for his mother's car accident, including Levy Pants worker and hot dog vendor. He was also a college professor at one point.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Ignatius' valve keeps coming up, despite the fact that no one (probably including him) knows what valve he's talking about or whether it's actually possible to feel this valve open or close.
  • You Need to Get Laid: What Myrna thinks Ignatius' problem is. She thinks it's the whole world's problem, actually, but in Ignatius' case she might be right (stopped clocks, you know).

The Cone GatherersLit FicThe Confidence Man
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alternative title(s): A Confederacy Of Dunces
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