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A Confederacy of Dunces

“Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel. Do not crush me beneath your spokes. Raise me on high, divinity” (Toole: 42). Here, Ignatius Reilly makes one of his many pleas to Fortuna, the goddess which he believes controls his destiny and his life by spinning him in circles of good and bad luck. The cycles Ignatius Reilly goes through in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces play an important role in the story, as they affect not only him, but several others in the book as well. The cycles that Ignatius is put through do, indeed, influence those around him. These cycles that Ignatius goes through are very much like gears, connected to the cycles of the other characters in the novel. Although it is not obvious at first, one can see that as Ignatius’ cycle, or gear, is spun downwards by Fortuna, the cycles of those around him who, at first, experience bad luck, are eventually spun upwards. This can be seen by examining the effects of Ignatius Reilly’s cycles on situations occurring in the Night of Joy, Levy Pants, and with his mother and her acquaintances.

The situation at the Night of Joy bar is, certainly, an interesting case to examine. At first, both Burma Jones and Darlene are experiencing bad luck, or a downward cycle. However, as Fortuna spins Ignatius Reilly downward, their situation begins to improve. We are introduced to Jones in the police station, early in the novel, after being arrested for, supposedly, stealing a bag of cashews. He exclaims, “I standin aroun in Woolsworth and some cat steal a bag of cashew nuts out the ‘Nut House’ star screaming like she been stab. Hey! The nex thing, a flo’walk grabbin me, and then a po-lice mother draggin me off. A man ain got a chance. Whoa!” (To…

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… in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces function much like gears. Ignatius Reilly’s is the main gear in the machine and the other characters occupy the role of secondary gears. As Fortuna spins Ignatius’ fortune downwards, the fortune’s of the other characters, which are, at first, unlucky, are then spun upwards. This irony makes the work all the more “grotesque” and appealing to the contemporary reader. It is, truly, a modern classic – the working machine of A Confederacy of Dunces.

Works Cited and Consulted

Clark, William Bedford. “All Toole’s Children: A Reading of A Confederacy of Dunces.” Essays in Literature 14.2 (1987): 269-280.

McNeil, David. “A Confederacy of Dunces as Reverse Satire: The American Subgenre.”

Mississippi Quarterly 38.1 (1984-1985): 33-47.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove Weidenfeld: New York, 1980.

Ignatius and Myrna in Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces

The Relationship between Ignatius and Myrna in A Confederacy of Dunces

One of the most unique and strange relationships in modern literature exists between Ignatius Reilly and Myrna Minkoff, the two perceived dunces in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The correspondence between them runs throughout the novel. In the beginning, Ignatius feels a certain air of superiority over her, yet she feels that he has lost touch with reality, and her suggestion begin to control his actions, as he tries to win at her own game. She genuinely cares for him and writes her opinion of how to transform his life. In three separate attempts to quiet her unrelenting criticism and suggestions, he heeds her advice, each time failing miserably and causing greater adversity for himself. Yet, at the end of the novel, in a comedic irony, she saves him from mental and physical captivity.

At the beginning of the relationship between the reader and the association between Ignatius and Myrna, Ignatius writes an egotistical letter to explain his adventures working at and grand plans for Levy Pants. Ignatius explains: “I have several excellent ideas already, and I know that I, for one, will eventually make Mr. Levy decide to put his heart and soul in the firm” (pg. 90). In Ignatius’s own fantasy world, he honestly supposes that his changes will cause a revolutionary transformation of Levy Pants. He believes that his innovative contrivances can transform the forgotten Levy Pants into a Fortune 500 company, and he writes to Myrna in an attempt to clarify and reinforce his deranged world view. Reality does not allow for Ignatius’s idealized rebirth of the factory, but Ignatius fails to see the actuality of the situation, and …

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…r Myrna physically enters his life. She saves his mind and body from imminent institutionalization.

Relationships sometimes have profound effects on the people in them. At the beginning of the novel, Ignatius feels a great deal of superiority over Myrna. However, as the relationship between them develops through the novel, it causes a tremendous amount of hardship in his life, due to Myrna’s critical letters to Ignatius, and his perseverance to take her advice. Like a naughty boy unable to learn his lesson and the consequence of his actions, Ignatius continues his pursuit to fulfill Myrna’s suggestions on three separate occasions, each ending in horrible failure. Yet, in a ironic twist, Myrna becomes Ignatius’s only escape from a life troubled by taking Myrna’s advice. Her letters affect Ignatius in a manner that only her car and body can remedy.

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