Off the Shelf: “The Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole

“Ignatius, what’s all this trash on the floor?”

“That is my worldview that you see. It still must be incorporated into a whole, so be careful where you step.”

Synopsis Unlike most book characters whom we love, the main character in this novel, Ignatius J. Reilly, is not meant to be relatable, admired or idolized. Reilly is an ex-professor of Middle Age History and Philosophy who was fired because he refused to grade his students’ papers and spends his time dreaming of a life in a feudal system. He abuses his poor Catholic mother — expecting her to provide for him — and strives to best his ex-girlfriend Myrna Minkoff. He condemns American consumerism but finds himself drawn to it and its conveniences.

Sprinkled in the book are also a variety of wealthy and equally interesting characters, from Darlene, a stripper with a cockatoo, to Angelo Mancuso, a hopeless police officer who finds himself frozen and locked in a public bathroom. However, this novel’s plot is very much driven by Reilly as he is forced to leave his work on his “magnum opus,” focused the philosophy of life, to find a real job. From his short stint as a hot dog vendor to his time as an employee at a pants-making company, we have the privilege to see Reilly’s humorous and thought-provoking take on New Orleans and American consumerism.


When the words American classics pop up, most people think of books like “The Great Gatsby,” The “Grapes of Wrath,” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;” introspective books that characterize, challenge, and depict American life and culture. A book that we think epitomizes this, but is not really mentioned along these titles is “A Confederacy of Dunces.” In his novel, Toole manages to offer a poignant critique on New Orleans, the US, and the cultural attitudes of that time through incredibly unique characters, witty dialogue, and rich descriptions. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is another book that manages to closely match this level of commentary and humor. Also, while this book may first seem to be overflowing with various arcs and subplots, they all eventually converge in the best ways possible. As you read about Ignatius’s job-hopping, Officer Mancuso’s poor misadventures, elderly Miss Trixie’s hoarding problem, and the rest of the entourage, you will start to smell, see, hear and breathe Toole’s New Orleans.

No matter how many times I pick up this novel to reread, I always find myself laughing at the most egotistical and conspicuous book character of all time.


It would be hard to find a book funnier than this one or a character more detestable than Reilly. Great book.

Rating: 10/10