A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces | Chapter 6 | Summary




Mattie's Ramble Inn, a combination bar and grocery store, is located in an isolated, undeveloped part of the city. The owner, Mr. Watson, is a black man. He listens to Burma Jones complain about his job and poor pay at the Night of Joy. Jones laments his lack of vocational training, feeling trapped. Without other choices, he is forced to spend his days working for an "old whore." He describes Darlene's plan to bring a bird to the Night of Joy, guessing that the bird will make more money than he does.

Mr. Watson tells Jones to be good and avoid trouble. Jones retorts that Watson is brainwashed. He characterizes his work situation as "modern slavery." Another man sitting at the bar intervenes to suggest that Jones fight back using sabotage. He describes the big plans for sabotage underway at his workplace, Levy Pants. He explains how "this big old white man" has come to the factory and encouraged the workers to revolt. Watson mutters to be nice and respectful. Jones remarks that the white man sounds crazy and will likely lead the workers straight to jail. As they discuss the white man, Jones realizes that it's Ignatius J. Reilly and again warns the man to stay away from him.


Ignatius goes to factory floor to rally the workers and lead the protest. The workers have armed themselves with objects such as bricks and bicycle chains. Ignatius organizes them into a procession, with banner carriers, a choir, and a warriors' battalion. They march on the office, where Ignatius orders them to attack. The workers prove reluctant to do so, but eventually make a few half-hearted attempts that only result in knocking over Ignatius's bean plants and ripping the sign he made for his desk. Eventually, the workers abandon Ignatius and go back to the factory.

Patrolman Angelo Mancuso finishes an eight-hour shift in the rest room but finds himself locked in and unable to leave. Ignatius is fired and returns home where his mother insists he look at want ads to find a new job. At the Levy home, Mrs. Levy lies on a vibrating exercise board and argues with her husband, berating him for not working hard or being enough like his father. Mr. Levy tells her about the workers' revolt. The Levys discuss workers' pay, and Mrs. Levy reveals that their daughters, who are off in college, have come to think that Levy Pants exploits it workers. As they argue, Mrs. Levy reveals that she needs a project now that their children are out of the house, and she strong-arms her husband into agreeing that Miss Trixie can come out to their house.


The description of the neighborhood where the Ramble Inn is located suggests the isolation and segregation of the black community in New Orleans. Jones's discussion with Watson illustrates different approaches to responding to oppression. Watson favors "being good," essentially preferring to fly under the radar and stay away from trouble. He is proud of his son, who went to college and is now a teacher. Watson has achieved a small measure of personal success by playing it safe and operating within the system. He understands the notion of sabotage as a method of resistance, but he defines it as small, hidden actions that don't carry great risk, such as adding too much pepper to the soup. The Levy Pants worker introduces the idea of boldly open, destructive sabotage. This leads to a discussion of the risks this kind of protest involves.

The protest at the factory is ridiculous from the start, with Ignatius struggling to get onto a table in order to rally the workers. He later struggles to get down, and is he almost left behind by the workers as they march off to the office. This satirical treatment highlights Ignatius's utter lack of real leadership abilities. Similarly, the workers' objections to the banner Ignatius has made out of a dirty sheet show the workers' skepticism and lack of real belief in both the protest and in Ignatius.

The theme of the medieval hierarchy is reinforced with Ignatius's organization of the procession into banner holders, choir, and warriors' battalion. However, this grandiose notion clashes with the reality: the dirty sheet and the workers' reluctance to touch it; the choir's spiritual—which emphasizes turning to Jesus, rather than complaining; the battalion's lack of enthusiasm. The protest fizzles out pathetically before it really gets started, and the only change it brings is that Ignatius is fired.

The Levys' discussion of oppression is similarly ridiculous. Mrs. Levy brings up the issue of the exploitation of workers, but in the end her real concern is herself. She demands that Mr. Levy bring Miss Trixie to their house as a "project." Mrs. Levy is emblematic of the middle-class attitude toward oppression and exploitation. On the one hand, they have an intellectual understanding of these wrongs and talk boldly about correcting it. On the other hand, the middle-class sympathizers are unwilling to engage effectively in order to change anything.

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