A Confederacy of Dunces | Study Guide

John Kennedy Toole

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Course Hero. "A Confederacy of Dunces Study Guide." December 11, 2017. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Confederacy-of-Dunces/.


Course Hero, "A Confederacy of Dunces Study Guide," December 11, 2017, accessed November 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Confederacy-of-Dunces/.

A Confederacy of Dunces | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Meet Ignatius J. Reilly

Ignatius J. Reilly, a large man with a green hunting cap squashed on his round head and blue and yellow eyes, is picked out of the French Quarter shopping throng by a policeman named Angelo Mancuso. Ignatius protests violently. An old man named Claude Robichaux intervenes, accusing Mancuso of being a "communiss." Patrolman Mancuso arrests Robichaux instead, leaving Ignatius and his mother, Irene, to seek refuge in a Bourbon Street bar called the Night of Joy. There, Ignatius regales a B-girl, Darlene, and others about the one time he left New Orleans on a job interview. Mrs. Reilly drinks several beers. When they leave the bar, her 1946 Plymouth slides on the wet street, and she hits a wrought-iron balcony and runs into a building.

Alone in his childhood bedroom, Ignatius works on his magnum opus and suffers from indigestion. Meanwhile, Patrolman Mancuso, dressed in the first of many costumes, visits Mrs. Reilly with the bad news that the building owner wants a thousand-dollar settlement for the damage to his building. In the Night of Joy bar, Burma Jones accepts a low-paying porter job from the exploitative and mercenary bar owner, Lana Lee. He commiserates with Darlene, who wants to move up in the world to become a stripper. Mrs. Reilly informs her son that he has to get a job to help pay this settlement, as they are low on cash.

Ignatius Goes to Work

Demoralized by the job search, Ignatius wants to quit on day one. His mother, however, insists that he apply for a job at Levy Pants, where he is hired as a file clerk. The only other workers in the office are manager Mr. Gomez Gonzalez and Miss Trixie, a demented woman in her 80s who calls him Gloria. Meanwhile at the Night of Joy, Lana Lee gets a visit from George, a flashy youth who gives her money and advice about how to stage her next pornographic photo. Ignatius receives a letter from Myrna Minkoff, who dismisses the car accident as a paranoid fantasy and offers him a part in her movie about interracial marriage.

Ignatius begins working at Levy Pants as only he can, wasting time, throwing away files, and forging an insulting letter to Abelman, one of the company's best customers. His stated motive is to help Mr. Gus Levy become more authoritarian, and, in a way, this is good advice. Mr. Levy visits the factory for a few minutes before he needs to escape from it. Back home, he sits in his comfortable home, Levy Lodge, bickering with Mrs. Levy. She regards him as a failure for not living up to his father's example. Ignatius comes home to an empty house—Mrs. Reilly is out with her new friends, Patrolman Mancuso and Santa Battaglia—and begins work on a new project, "The Journal of a Working Boy."

While Patrolman Mancuso is consigned to a bus station bathroom for his misadventures undercover, detectives congregate at the Night of Joy. Their presence causes Lana Lee to change the time that George comes to pick up the pornographic photos. She leaves George with the problem of where he can store the photos until delivery. Ignatius explores the factory side of Levy Pants to learn more about the establishment where he works. Observing that the black workers receive low pay, he comes up with a scheme to upstage Myrna Minkoff's social protests.

Burma Jones learns how to use sabotage to counter racial injustice from Mr. Watson, the owner of a blacks-only establishment named Mattie's Ramble Inn. He also hears about an actual form of sabotage taking place at Levy Pants, Ignatius's "Crusade for Moorish Dignity." Ignatius leads the factory workers into Mr. Gus Gonzalez's office, where the crowd eventually turns on him. He is in turn fired by Mr. Levy. Back at Levy Lodge, Mrs. Levy unsurprisingly takes Ignatius's side and berates Mr. Levy for getting rid of a "bright young man."

Selling Hot Dogs and Other Misadventures

Strolling through New Orleans, Ignatius comes upon Mr. Clyde, the owner of a hot dog vending business named Paradise Vendors, Incorporated. He is hired on the spot to push one of the carts, much to the humiliation and shame of Mrs. Reilly, who thinks this job is beneath her educated son. At the Night of Joy, Jones begins his campaign of sabotage by convincing Lana Lee to allow Darlene to go forward with her stripping act. Ignatius receives another letter from Myrna, this time lecturing him about sexual repression.

Mr. Levy brings Miss Trixie, the elderly assistant accountant from Levy Pants, back to Levy Lodge so that Mrs. Levy can continue to work on the old woman's self-esteem. This is an absurd, self-serving project. All Miss Trixie wants to do is retire, and while at the Levy home she mostly snoozes on the couch. In the bus station bathroom, Patrolman Mancuso has a run-in with George, who steals Ignatius's copy of The Consolation of Philosophy to use as one of Lana Lee's props. Mancuso later visits his aunt Santa Battaglia's house for a gathering that includes Claude Robichaux, Mrs. Reilly's suitor.

After informing Ignatius that he received a complaint from the board of health, Mr. Clyde decides not to fire him but forces Ignatius to change his route to the French Quarter and to wear a pirate costume in order to attract tourists. Darlene shows Lana Lee her strip act. She has attached rings to a dress so that her pet cockatoo, who is attracted to them, will be able to rip the dress off. Lana decides the act should be a plantation reenactment in which Darlene dresses as a chaste Southern belle and Jones plays the role of a doorman. Meanwhile, Jones discovers the hiding spot for Lana's pornography props.

More Misadventures

Back at Mattie's Ramble Inn, Jones devises a new plan for sabotage. He will bring Ignatius to the Night of Joy since he knows that Lana Lee thinks the "kook" is bad for business. Ignatius runs into Dorian Greene, a gay resident of the French Quarter, and comes up with a fantastic new social protest movement. If gay men infiltrate all the powerful positions in the world, he believes it will lead to world peace, since the gay men will be more interested in partying than waging war. Dorian Green agrees to host a launch party as an excuse to entertain. George decides to hide the pornographic photos in Ignatius's hot dog cart.

Mrs. Reilly cannot stop talking about Ignatius, even while out with Santa Battaglia and Claude Robichaux. Santa tries to convince Mrs. Reilly to have her son committed to the mental ward of Charity Hospital. Much to her chagrin, the Levys return Miss Trixie to Levy Pants. While there, Mr. Levy learns that Abelman has filed a half million–dollar lawsuit against him for the insulting letter Ignatius wrote. George rescues Ignatius's cart from a disaster on the streetcar tracks and gives him money in exchange for storage rights. Ignatius opens one of the packages George has hidden in the cart and sees the photograph of Lana obscured by his own Boethius text. He heads out to the Night of Joy to find her and encounters Jones, who invites him to the opening night of Darlene's new act.

In his pirate costume, Ignatius arrives at Dorian Green's house expecting a political kickoff rally. Instead he finds a wild party. When he tries to address the crowd, they boo him, and the same lesbian trio who attacked Mancuso earlier in the novel attack him as well. He retreats to the Night of Joy, hoping to find a kindred spirit in Darlene, whom he believes is the woman reading Boethius. Instead, Darlene's cockatoo makes a rush for his pirate earring. Ignatius collapses outside, and Jones saves him from being run over by a bus. Patrolman Mancuso shows up at the fracas. In her confusion Lana Lee shows Mancuso the pornographic photo. He arrests her.

In the Hospital and What Happens Afterward

Ignatius wakes up in the hospital and learns that there is nothing physically wrong with him and that his mother sent Mancuso out to look for him that night. The reader meanwhile learns the fate of all the other characters. Mancuso finally receives commendations from the sergeant. Lana Lee must share a jail cell with the brawling lesbians, who attack her. George is arrested at home. Darlene gets a new job as a result of the publicity surrounding the fracas at the bar. After confronting Ignatius about the forged letter, Mr. Levy gets Miss Trixie to cop to the forgery and feels empowered enough to stand up to his domineering wife. He also decides to award Jones through the Leon Levy Foundation and offer him a job.

Now that Ignatius is back sitting around in his room, Mrs. Reilly can't take it anymore and agrees to call the Charity Hospital to come for him. Ignatius suspects something is up and pieces things together. He is panicking when, out of nowhere, Myrna Minkoff shows up at his door. She has driven down from New York to check up on him. His irritation at her gives way to appeasement as he realizes she is his means of escaping the mental ward. They gather his notes and escape from New Orleans just as the ambulance arrives.

A Confederacy of Dunces Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Mrs. Irene Reilly runs into a balcony with her Plymouth.

Rising Action

2 Ignatius gets a job at Levy Pants.

3 Ignatius is fired for organizing a riot at Levy Pants.

4 Ignatius gets a new job as a hot dog vendor.

5 Ignatius sees the pornographic image of Lana Lee.

6 Ignatius plans a political party to put gay men in power.


7 Ignatius collapses and is taken to the hospital.

Falling Action

8 Mr. Levy confronts Ignatius about the letter to Abelman.


9 Ignatius escapes to New York with Myrna Minkoff.

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