A Confederacy of Dunces was written in 1962 by John Kennedy Toole. Toole was born in 1937 and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mary Vespa of Time magazine states ?Toole was a precious child. Skipping first and forth grades, he entered Tulane on a scholarship at 16. After graduating in 1958, he got his M.A. in English from Colombia the following year?(57). Toole began writing A Confederacy of Dunces in 1962 and finished in 1963. During these two years Toole was an Army corporal in Puerto Rico. In 1963, after Toole had finished writing A Confederacy of Dunces, he began speaking with a man by the name of Robert Gottlieb. Gottlieb was an editor that Toole was corresponding with about the publication of his book. Gottlieb was working for a company by the name of Simon and Schuster. In 1968, while still living at home with his parents, Toole was studying for his Ph.
D. at Tulane and teaching at St. Mary Dominican College in New Orleans. While working and studying, Toole discovered that Simon and Schuster had rejected his novel which caused him to become very depressed. According to Mary Vespa ?Toole resigned his teaching position and disappeared for two months,... his body was found soon after , in Biloxi, Mississippi?(57). Toole had committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Thalma Toole, John Toole?s mother, began submitting her sons book to different publishers until she found someone who would read it. Walker Percy was the first person to take the time to read the book. Percy stated in the Louisiana State University Press ?I read on. And on. First with a sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then with a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was that good?(441).
A Confederacy of Dunces takes place in New Orleans with the main character as a man named Ignatius Reilly. Reilly is described as ? a monumental slob whose mere appearance on the streets of New Orleans makes policemen itch to arrest him?(Gray 78). He is also described as a ?hopeless, fat, pathetic, hilarious New Orleans loser extraordinaire?(Hardy 2). The story begins with Reilly standing in front of a department store waiting for his mother to return. The police see him standing there and find him suspicious. After seeing him they approach him and begin to question him. Reilly begins to irritate the officers with his responses to the questions. ?His haughty replies, bespeaking an elaborate education and a general distaste for the world, irritate the policeman who attempts to arrest him?(Gay 35). A bystander begins to voice his opinion and to ? denounce the officer as a communiss?(Gay 35). With this denouncement, other shoppers began to input their opinion. When Reilly?s mother returns, she sees what is unfolding and rescues her son. With all the chaos, Reilly and his mother have a chance to escape. After this little excursion, Reilly?s mother forces him to get a job. His first job is at a Levy factory. This job is slow and boring, but he meets an older woman who is the secretary at the factory and her name is Miss. Trixie. She is a lot of fun and often asks ?Am I retired??(Gray 78) even though retirement is nowhere close. Reilly gets fired from the factory for trying ?organize the black workers into an ill-fated Crusade for Moorish Dignity?(Gray 78). After the factory, he got a job in the French Quarter selling hot dogs. Reilly?s mother loves him dearly and she wants to do everything to help him. Towards the end she comes to the belated conclusion that Reilly is disgracing her. She also wonders whether she should commit her son to the Charity Hospital. She feels that it is very possible that her son is crazy and she figures that if the help is free then why not put him there.
Stephen Goodwin of the Washington Post reviewed the book and states, ?[A Confederacy of Dunces] is a corker. It is a gross farce, a blustering satire, an epic comedy, a rumbling, roaring avalanche of a book that begins with a solitary fat man but quickly picks up cops and B-girls, clerks and capitalist, most of the ?deviates? and ?degenerates? of the French Quarter of New Orleans, and keeps right on gathering momentum until it sweeps away everything, including that most innocent of bystanders, the reader, in its path...?(442) Monroe K. Spears of The Lone Star Book Review comments; ? One of the finest things about the book is the vividness with which the speech of the character is rendered so as to be at once individual and exactly representative of his class, race and locality- and, most important of all, both expressive of his nature and funny...?(443) Richard Brown of The Times Literary Supplement states ?Nevertheless, A Confederacy of Dunces manages to gather a considerable momentum, has its own distinctive voice and is imaginative enough to escape the clichÃÂ©...? he goes on to talk about the book more in detail: ?[The] strengths of this novel do not really reside in [its] wild narrative and the countless absurd situations it generates. It succeeds, where it does succeed, through the clarity of its episodic architecture, its ability to rely effectively on dialogue for the evocation of scene and character, and through some splendid close observation which arises mainly from a determination to work with the peculiarities of a New Orleans setting and language?(443).
A Confederacy of Dunces is a book that provides a pleasant time while reading. It is extremely comical and provides a good story line. Many critics agree that it is such a tragedy that Toole was not able to go on and continue writing. Toole had an incredible talent of being able to use satire and still tell a good story.