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?
EXPLOITERS AND THE EXPLOITED, THE PERSECUTORS
--is exploited by her son
--yet has a vibrant social life, albeit sordid at times
--exploits his observations-unfairly tries to take in Ignatius for looking
--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"
--Wants to save Trixie, but persecutes her with her attempts to rescue
her by not retiring her
--Threatens her husband with alienating their daughters
--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
--Is persecuted for Ignatius' letter
--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
--Exploits the exploited for her own self-worth
--Is exploited by lovers for her sexual freedom views
--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.
Questions and related information provided by Naton Leslie
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.