A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

I–III

Demoralized and depleted, Ignatius J. Reilly staggers home after a fruitless day searching for a job. Mrs. Irene Reilly shows him a help wanted ad for a clerk at Levy Pants, and Ignatius is resigned to apply for the job at his mother's angry insistence. No less demoralized, Patrolman Angelo Mancuso continues to suffer from his sergeant's demand that he wear a disguise "until he brings ... in a character." This despite the solid tip Mancuso has brought in that the Night of Joy is a good place to stake out. The sergeant doesn't disagree but puts other officers on the assignment instead.

In the clerical offices of Levy Pants, manager Mr. Gomez Gonzalez reflects on a typical conversation with his boss, Gus Levy, who stops in from time to time to fret about office expenses and plan for activities far from the factory itself. Mr. Gonzalez tidies the desk in the early morning chill of the office. Then the octogenarian Miss Trixie, the assistant accountant, arrives. Miss Trixie shuffles to her cluttered desk. She carries several nondescript bags and soon disappears into the ladies' room.

Just as Mr. Gonzalez is wondering who else might show up for work that day, the "overwhelming" figure of Ignatius appears. Ignatius feels heartened by the run down and antiquated atmosphere of the office, which reminds him of his own room at home. Gonzalez hires him on the spot for the $60 per week filing job. When Ignatius complains about the low salary, Gonzalez informs him that Miss Trixie only earns $40 a week even though she has been with the company over 50 years. The reader learns that Mrs. Levy won't allow the old woman to retire in spite of her strong desire to do so. After Mr. Gonzalez adds 20 cents bus fare to the salary negotiation, Ignatius accepts the job.

IV–V

Burma Jones and Lana Lee exchange verbal barbs in the Night of Joy. Then George, a young boy, arrives and hands Lana some bills from his wallet. He tells her that the orphans enjoyed the picture with glasses and a desk the most, because it reminded them of a teacher. They want to see more like that, he says, perhaps with a chalkboard and a book, "doing something with a piece of chalk." The reader understands that they are talking about pornographic photos, with Lana as the subject. Once George leaves, Lana counts the money with "the imprecations of a priestess." That is, she worships the profits. She and Jones resume their exchange of bland insults.

His taxi stalled in traffic, Ignatius uses the time to write journal notes about his first day of work. The reader learns that he retaliated against some personal remarks that the stenographer, Gloria, made by telling Gonzalez she was planning to quit at the end of the day. Gonzalez fired Gloria as a result. Ignatius then argued that Gonzalez could now afford to transport him to and from work in a taxi, something he views as a "good, small cycle" of fortune within a larger downward cycle.

Ignatius arrives home to his mother's congratulations and news that she is going bowling with Angelo Mancuso and his aunt. She hands Ignatius a letter from Myrna Minkoff, which he rips open impatiently the minute his mother leaves.

The letter is a response to correspondence from Ignatius about the car accident that led to his needing to find a job. Myrna subjects Ignatius to a Freudian analysis about his feelings of failure in life and need for sex. She then proceeds to explain that she has been busy trying to raise money for a "bold and shattering" film about interracial marriage. She has "found a girl from the streets of Harlem" to play one of the leading roles and a boy she knew in high school will star opposite her. She wonders if Ignatius would play the role of the landlord. She remarks how this "sick, reactionary villain" lives in a womb-like room with pictures of the Pope on the walls. She worries that Leola, the lead actor, may complain because they cannot afford to pay her.

Analysis

Toole broadens the scope of his social satire in this chapter, including both working conditions and racial relations in his critique. Mr. Levy, who has inherited Levy Pants from his father, can barely stand to be on company's premises. When he does show up, he has the manager make arrangements for his travel elsewhere. If he is divorced from the reality of ownership, his wife is just as clueless, forcing the 80-something Miss Trixie to continue working because it is "better for Miss Trixie to keep active" even though the elderly woman clearly wishes to retire.

Mrs. Levy's correspondence course in psychology mirrors Myrna Minkoff's Freudian analysis later in the chapter. Though Myrna's comments are more plausible, Toole portrays her as deluded and hypocritical about race. After all, pulling a black girl from the streets to work for her without pay is even worse than Lana Lee's hiring Jones at a subpar salary so that he can avoid being arrested for vagrancy. Jones and Lana are at least honest characters, the former an aspiring capitalist with no other illusions and the latter an unapologetic capitalist who sells pornographic photos of herself to orphans with the help of a youth named George.

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