A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces is a humorous novel by John Kennedy Toole, posthumously published in 1980. Set in New Orleans, the novel follows the misadventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, an eccentric and slothful man who has never held a job and lives with his mother. The novel explores themes of identity, class, and the absurdity of modern society.


Throughout the novel, Ignatius struggles to come to terms with his identity. He sees himself as an intellectual superior to those around him and despises the modern world he lives in. Ignatius is unable to find a job that suits his talents and instead spends his time writing in his journal and reading books. He also has a strong sense of his own morality and views himself as a defender of traditional values.

However, Ignatius’s sense of superiority is not shared by those around him. His mother, for example, sees him as a lazy and ungrateful son, and his only friend, Burma Jones, is a black man who works as a janitor. Ignatius’s attempts to impose his views on others are often met with resistance, and he is forced to confront the fact that his identity may not be as unique or superior as he thought.


A Confederacy of Dunces also explores issues of class and social status. Ignatius’s family comes from a wealthy background, but he and his mother are now living in poverty. Ignatius’s attempts to find work are hindered by his lack of social skills and his refusal to accept jobs that he considers beneath him.

Meanwhile, other characters in the novel are struggling to make ends meet, including Jones, who works multiple jobs just to get by, and the Levy family, who own a rundown clothing store. The class divisions in the novel are further highlighted by the differences between the wealthy tourists who visit New Orleans and the working-class residents who live there year-round.

The Absurdity of Modern Society

One of the central themes of A Confederacy of Dunces is the absurdity of modern society. Ignatius’s contempt for the world around him is based on his belief that it has lost touch with traditional values and is dominated by consumerism and superficiality.

The novel is filled with characters who embody these traits, such as the Levy family, who try to save their failing business by creating tasteless and offensive clothing designs. Ignatius’s attempts to resist these cultural forces are often comical, such as when he leads a protest against a strip club that he believes is corrupting society.


A Confederacy of Dunces is a satirical and humorous novel that explores themes of identity, class, and the absurdity of modern society. The character of Ignatius J. Reilly is both a sympathetic and ridiculous figure, whose struggles to find his place in the world reflect the larger societal issues addressed in the book. Toole’s use of humor and irony make the novel an entertaining read, but it also serves as a commentary on the state of society and the human condition.

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