A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

I

Mr. Clyde receives a complaint from the Board of Health about Ignatius, who denies the accusation in his typically bombastic fashion. Ignatius complains about his physical and mental health and his mother's increasing pressure on him. Mr. Clyde agrees to give Ignatius another chance, with a route in the French Quarter. Ignatius objects to being sent to "that sinkhole of vice," but Clyde insists, forcing Ignatius take the route or lose his job. Clyde goes over Ignatius's hot dog sales, which are almost nothing since he actually spends his work time making notes, plotting against Myrna Minkoff, and eating the hot dogs himself. Ignatius returns home, where his mother greets him by falling to her knees and asking God what she had done to deserve her fate. She then asks Ignatius if he is a communist. Ignatius objects to the accusation and explains that he would prefer to live in a monarchy.

Ignatius receives another letter from Myrna, who suggests his previous letter to her was anti-Semitic and that he is jealous of her. She describes her new lover, a Kenyan artist whose life is spent engaged in meaningful activity. She chides Ignatius that he has done nothing with his life, and she urges him to volunteer, or at least get outside and open himself up to the world. Ignatius tells his mother about Myrna's upcoming lecture. He says that she "is preparing to bray at some unfortunate Negro. In public." This leads Mrs. Reilly to note that blacks are in a hard situation. She tells him about giving a quarter to an older black woman she feels sorry for. Ignatius objects to this use of money and storms off to consider how he can next respond to Myrna's provocations.

II–III

Darlene performs a dress rehearsal of her new strip-tease act with the bird, which Lana Lee finds tawdry and not fit for her "refined" establishment. Lana explains that her customers want to "see a sweet, clean virgin get insulted and stripped." She imagines an act where Darlene plays a Southern belle. Burma Jones remarks "Now we really back on the plantation." He also threatens Lana, saying that he knows something corrupt is happening with the orphans and that he will figure it out and turn her over to the police. Lana threatens Jones and forces him to act as doorman for the club during Darlene's act. Alone for a moment while Lana abuses Darlene, Jones notices an open cabinet door and finds packages, a globe, and a book—Lana's stash of props for the obscene photo. As an act of sabotage, he writes the address of the Night of Joy on the packages on the assumption that they can one day be used as evidence against Lana.

Meanwhile, Patrolman Angelo Mancuso insists to his sergeant that he cannot continue his posting in the bathroom stall. The sergeant finally agrees, but he says that Mancuso must arrest someone within two weeks, or he will be fired.

IV–V

Ignatius writes in his Journal, complaining about being forced to work in the French Quarter and to wear a pirate costume in order to attract the tourists there. Too large to fit into the costume, he ends up simply tying the pirate scarf onto his hat, pinning the plastic sword to his shirt, and wearing the hoop earring. Ignatius rails against Myrna Minkoff, calling her his "passionless flame" and saying she has turned against him. At work in the French Quarter, Ignatius poses for tourists taking photos. He encounters Mancuso and asks after his book. He then strides off, forgetting his hot dog cart. He goes back to retrieve it and contemplates the need to sell more hot dogs or face Clyde's wrath.

Dr. Talc flirts with an attractive female student in his office. He then remembers having Myrna and Ignatius as students. The student asks Dr. Talc what grade she had received on a report handed in two months previously. Searching through piles of student work, Dr. Talc finds an old paper airplane, bearing a threatening note from "Zorro."

Analysis

Ignatius remains stuck in his gluttony and self-delusions. In contrast to the way Ignatius stubbornly imagines and clings to grandiose ideas about himself, Lana is clear-eyed, but cold and cruel. Her ability to see things as they really are is just as depressing as Ignatius's ridiculous misperceptions. Lana understands the exact kind of smut her clients want and can clearly see how to attract them with a scene based on the degradation of a "clean," virginal figure.

Jones's reaction to Lana's idea points to the entrenched racism and lingering "plantation" mentality that dominates the South. He calls both Lana and the character she creates for Darlene "Scarla O'Horror"—an obvious reference to the character of Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind and a cutting critique of Southern racism. Because Toole uses unconventional spelling to reflect the speech patterns of the characters, readers don't know if Jones's reference to "Scarla O'Horror" is intentional on his part, but the author's jab at the image of the South is clear. Jones's feelings are clear as well, as he objects to the recreation of the plantation. He tries to refuse to take part, when Lana requires him to act as doorman, saying, "Maybe you gettin Scarla O'Horror ... but you ain gettin a fiel hand out front, too." This ties back to Jones's reference to his job at the Night of Joy as modern-day slavery. Jones protests vociferously against his situation. Still, in keeping with the whole story, there is little room to hope that Jones will prevail. The only possibility for him to exercise any power is to attempt sabotage.

Dr. Talc is a failed intellectual and admits to not even being interested in his own subject. He clearly does not even bother to look at the work students turn in. He expresses animosity toward Ignatius and Myrna, but the three characters are all cut from the same cloth. Their intelligence and inclination toward intellectual pursuits do nothing to elevate them. All three are hollow, willfully blind to their flaws, and unable to use their intelligence for any meaningful purpose.

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