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Title: A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole

Summary: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about a young man's isolation. It is the story of a 30-year-old man at the start of the 1960s in New Orleans. The central character is Ignatius J. Reilly, an intelligent but slothful man who still lives with his mother. Due to family circumstances, he has to find a job for the first time in his life. His quest entails various adventures with colorful characters. The title is derived from the book’s epigraph by Jonathan Swift, entitled Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the confederacy of dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

1. Who has power in this novel? Who has control?

2. Is Ignatius a genius or a madman?

3. Discuss Fate (Fortuna) versus Free will? Everyone benefits from the negative effects of Ignatius Reilly, who believes he is beset by Fortuna or fate. Everyone is saved when they take action, from Levy to Jones-free will.

4. By the end of the novel, most of the people are helped in a roundabout way. What allows for this to happen? Which storylines are left dangling? Can we imagine a better future after the story for them?

5. The novel is a comedy unlike most comedies. What makes it different?

6. How realistic are the characters in A Confederacy of Dunces? Are they realistic enough for us to feel compassion for them? Do any of them remind you of anyone in your real life?

7. A Confederacy of Dunces presents a colorful pre-Katrina picture of New Orleans. Is it a flattering picture?

Related Information:


Mrs. Reilly
--is exploited by her son
--yet has a vibrant social life, albeit sordid at times

Officer Mancuso
--exploits his observations-unfairly tries to take in Ignatius for looking odd
--is persecuted by his superiors and has to wear funny costumes, even stuck in the bus restroom

--is exploited by Mrs. Reilly for his "railroad pension" - -wants to persecute "communiss"

Mrs. Levy
--Wants to save Trixie, but persecutes her with her attempts to rescue her by not retiring her
--Threatens her husband with alienating their daughters

Mr. Levy
--Exploits his workers by neglect, such as Miss Trixie, Gonzalez.
--Is exploited by family and Ignatius, especially by his letter

--Exploits his position and the factory by being incompetent

Professor Talc
--Exploits students
--Is persecuted for Ignatius' letter
Lana Lee
--Exploits employees
--Is finally arrested after sabotaged by Burma Jones

--Tries to exploit her pet --is sexually exploited

--Exploited for his ties to the high school --Exploits his youth
--Is exploited by Ignatius for needing a place to hide porn

Myrna Minkoff
--Exploits the exploited for her own self-worth
--Is exploited by lovers for her sexual freedom views

Bombay Jones
--Exercises the most control over his exploiters, yet is most exploited as a black wanting to simply avoid being seen as a vagrant

Each character achieves what is called "emotional justice" via Ignatius' activities.

Virtual Tour of locations in A Confederacy Of Dunces

Development of the movie version

Commentary on Toole's life and books

Questions and related information provided by Naton Leslie and

This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.

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