A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

I

The chapter opens with detailed description of Levy Pants, which is composed of a dilapidated 19th-century commercial office building and a connected hangar-like structure that houses the factory. The whole affair overlooks wharf sheds on the Mississippi River, "a silent and smoky plea for urban renewal."

Inside, Ignatius J. Reilly is tacking up a poster that reads "Department of Research and Reference, I.J. Reilly, Custodian." He has made the poster instead of filing. Mr. Gomez Gonzalez suggests that he use a much-too-small stool to scoot along the files, but Ignatius promptly falls off of it, and Miss Trixie steps on his hand.

While Ignatius yells abuse at Gonzalez, a "sportily dressed middle-aged man" enters the office. This is the owner, Mr. Gus Levy. Ignatius informs him that he has taken a keen interest in the business, and Gonzalez praises Ignatius's efficiency to his boss, claiming that he can do the work of several employees. Mr. Levy inquires about his mail, gives his best to Miss Trixie from his wife, and quickly departs.

After watching Gonzalez forge Gus Levy's signature on several business letters, he takes advantage of the manager's departure from the office to compose an absurd and insulting letter to Mr. Abelman, one of the factory's customers, on the grounds that "Levy Pants must become more militant and authoritarian ... to survive the jungle of modern commercialism." He then destroys Gonzalez's original reply to Abelman, puts his composition in the outbox, and throws all the unfiled material in the wastebasket.

II–V

Lana Lee wonders why so many plainclothes policemen have been frequenting the Night of Joy and putting a damper on her business. Meanwhile, Mrs. Irene Reilly is basking in the peace and quiet of a home without her son when she receives a phone call from Santa Battaglia, Patrolman Angelo Mancuso's aunt. Santa informs her that an old gentleman was asking about her after seeing the two of them at the bowling alley. She tells Mrs. Reilly that she is still plenty attractive. The reader also learns that Mancuso was arrested for a disturbance that took place while he was working undercover in the bus station's men's bathroom.

Meanwhile, at Levy Lodge, the interior of which is "as sensually comfortable as the human womb" and filled with the latest luxury items, Mr. and Mrs. Levy sit watching color television. Mrs. Levy complains about the color quality and ponders getting a wig the same color as her natural hair. She then shifts her attention to a critique of her husband's neglect of Levy Pants, a business founded his father. Mr. Levy prophetically remarks that, with the three clowns working there, "it's a wonder nothing's happened already."

Ignatius decides against seeing a dull Swedish drama, no doubt an Ingmar Bergman film, at the movie theater. Instead, he goes home to find that Mrs. Reilly is once again out with her friends. He begins work on a "new, extremely commercial project," which he entitles, "The Journal of a Working Boy, or, Up from Sloth." In his first installment, he justifies throwing out the files because they were vermin-infested and constituted a fire hazard. He believes that Mr. Levy will come to "learn of [his] devotion" and "dedication," and he considers gifting Miss Trixie with a new pair of socks in order to draw her into conversation. He says that his valve closed when Gonzalez asked him to add some figures and wonders if the manager will become a nuisance to him. He signs off as "Darryl, Your Working Boy."

While wondering how he might prove his superiority to Myrna Minkoff, he begins to play the lute, much to the irritation of his next-door neighbor, Miss Annie. She yells at him to shut up. He is about to throw a pan of water through her shutters when his mother returns with Mancuso and Santa Battaglia. They retire to the kitchen to drink and watch Santa dance. Miss Annie screams that she will call the cops, and Mancuso nervously pleads with them to keep it down.

Analysis

The portrayal of the Levys as wealthy but ridiculous and unhappy continues to build upon the theme of the failure of consumerism and capitalism. Ignatius's letter to Abelman, which will have more importance later in the novel, echoes this theme. But it also highlights how ridiculous Ignatius is in his approach to resistance and sabotage.

The Levys themselves are a typical middle-class couple, the kind of people Toole seems to enjoy calling out. They more or less despise one another, considering "each other the only ungratifying objects in the home." Mrs. Levy nags and complains: "Perry Como's face is all green," she says with "great hostility." Later she complains that "You've thrown your father's business down the drain." And she's pretentious as well: "I want a brunette wig. That way I can change my personality." Gus Levy appears to see through his wife's pretensions and tires of her complaining. "Oh, stop all that crap," he responds. But Mrs. Levy has the upper hand, holding her children over his head and denigrating him for being a poor father.

In rejecting the "dull" movie in favor of staying at home to write, Ignatius essentially rejects high art and culture in favor of his own ego and illusions. The attempt to play the lute again connects Ignatius to the medieval tradition that he so desperately admires and longs for. The ensuing chaos points to the way the modern world does not cohere with Ignatius's illusions and self-deception.

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