A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

I–III

In the Night of Joy, Darlene tops the liquor bottles with water while Lana Lee regales her with another story involving Patrolman Angelo Mancuso. Three women were arrested after a man wearing bowling shoes allegedly propositioned one of them in another French Quarter night spot. Darlene says that she knows how to improve business—by bringing in an animal act. She has a trained cockatoo that could perform with her on stage. Lana wants to make sure that the police don't find out about Burma Jones, lest she lose his incredibly cheap labor.

At Levy Pants, Mr. Gomez Gonzalez reflects on his wonderful luck to have Ignatius working in the office. Miss Trixie arrives, wearing nightclothes. Gonzalez sends her home to change, and she is away for hours. Ignatius arrives and chides Gonzalez for damaging Trixie's morale. He works on painting a cross for the office, which will be decorated with the words "God and Commerce." Trixie finally returns. She and Gonzalez bicker, but the dramatic scene Ignatius had hoped for does not come to pass. Ignatius throws away more files and then goes to visit workers in the factory.

Meanwhile, Mancuso has been summoned to see his sergeant. He arrives with his head bandaged from the encounter with the lesbians. The sergeant, unaware of Mancuso's involvement, chides him that he should try to get information that will lead to arrests, like those of the lesbians who had been brought in the previous night. He complains that Mancuso's tip about the Night of Joy has been worthless.

IV–V

Ignatius complains to his mother as she prepares to go out with her friends. They argue about money, with Ignatius loftily describing how his labor brings income to the household. Mrs. Irene Reilly notes that she has only been able to get $20 from him so far that week, although he has bought himself a number of items.

Mrs. Reilly goes out and Ignatius works on his Journal. He begins by praising his work at Levy Pants, writing that his actions serve to "banish, benefit, beautify." He lambasts the dictatorial office manager. He then describes his visit to the factory floor, where he encountered the black workers. Ignatius views the work at the factory as mechanized slavery, with the black workers having progressed only from picking cotton to producing clothing from it. He turns off the "obscene" jazz the workers are listening to, eliciting protest from the workers. In an attempt to establish a good rapport with the workers, he turns the music back and then tries to dance, which leads to him falling down. Ignatius reflects on his sense of connection with blacks, saying that both he and they live outside of the main core of society. He laments the black workers' desire to enter the middle class, imagining that if he himself were black, he and his mother could live happily in a slum, without having to bother striving for a better life. He notes the appalling low pay the factory workers receive, imagining that if he were one of them he would have demanded more.

Ignatius then writes about how he met Myrna Minkoff when they were both students. He describes her as shaped by her limited New York perspective. She is attracted to protest and drama and sees sex as a solution to every problem. Eventually, she drops out of school, feeling that it cannot teach her anything. Ignatius notes that Myrna is very sincere, and also very offensive.

The chapter closes with Dr. Talc, who teaches at the university where Ignatius and Myrna met, searching his office for lecture notes. He finds a stack of essays that have never been graded and a notepad containing an insulting note describing Dr. Talc as ignorant and threatening him. Signed "Zorro," Dr. Talc infers it is Ignatius, Talc's former student. Dr. Talc wonders aloud what became of Ignatius.

Analysis

The ridiculous and corrupt nature of many of the characters is further developed. The topping up of the liquor bottles at the Night of Joy and Lana's focus on retaining Jones for his cheap labor paint a vivid picture of the cynicism and exploitation underlying the work of running a business. Similarly, Gonzalez's lack of concern for Trixie and his ludicrous appraisal of Ignatius as a valuable employee suggest a managerial penchant for both callousness and idiotic naiveté.

Ignatius is a critic of the system, and yet his regard for the black factory workers also reveals his inability to see them as his equals. Indeed, his analysis of the "evolution" of blacks from slaves to factory workers is meant to be thoughtful but is actually contemptuous. Ignatius muses that when black slaves were picking cotton, they at least benefitted from being outdoors, where they would likely have been singing and eating watermelon. This commentary would no doubt have offended the workers themselves.

True to his character, Ignatius fails to understand how ridiculous he looks to others. He tries dancing to the music in the factory, "twisting and shouting." Calling out "Go! Go! Do it, baby, do it! Hear me talkin' to ya. Wow!" Ignatius thinks the genial, laughing factory workers are enjoying the moment just as he is. He fails to realize that they are laughing at him and at his dancing. He is able to spot the flaws in society, in capitalism, in the Levy Pants office and factory, but he is unable to see his own racism, pretentiousness, and foolishness.

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