A Confederacy, A Catcher, and A Cornucopia

 The Catcher in the Rye*

As a cry for liberation from the cult of success that dominated the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras, A Confederacy of Dunces in some ways resembles The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that became famous in 1951, ten years before Toole began the manuscript. Just as The Catcher in the Rye’s hero, Holden Caulfield, has been thrown out of one boarding school after another, so, too, is Ignatius booted from every job he’s ever had. Both Holden and Ignatius see themselves as lone voices of truth crying out against the shallowness and hypocrisy of American culture. To prove it, both are defined by the hunting caps they wear –armor they don as they battle the ills of their age.

The books end very differently, however. In the final chapter of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is in a mental hospital, in the throes of a sort of Zen epiphany about the circular structure of life. This could very well have been Ignatius’ end, as well. But with the assistance of Myrna, Ignatius is en route to New York City just as the ambulance from the Charity Hospital is coming to his house to commit him to the psych ward. The connections invite the reader to wonder whether Toole constructed Ignatius as a response to Holden – a character with a somewhat similar temperament and worldview, but one who is ultimately an adult who cannot be imprisoned for being crazy when he is, in fact, merely eccentric. The force of conformity, that “confederacy of dunces,” overtakes the adolescent Holden. But the slightly older– and if not wiser, then at least luckier – Ignatius escapes their grasp and lights out to the Manhattan frontier to begin a new life. Ignatius, in the end, is freed by Fortuna, Myrna and his own gargantuan inertia. By staying in place, he was perfectly positioned for a positive reversal of fortune. Speeding past the salt marshes, hurtling northward to New York, Ignatius’ celebrated pyloric valve opens. He breathes a little easier. And as we watch the Confederacy fail to imprison the odd, so do we.

Rebecca Jones earned her M.A. in English Literature at VCU in 2016. She is an editor and copywriter at VCU and a founding member of the Working Titles Book Club.

Rebecca Jones Photo (July 2017)
Rebecca Jones Photo (July 2017)

A Cornucopia of Dunderheads

  • Note that the Featured Image shows the Cover of A Cornucopia of Dunderheads, which is a parody of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole that was published in paperback in 2015.  Neither Rebecca nor I have read the parody, but we are interested in exploring the work. Here is the Amazon.com description of the book:

WHAT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED TO IGNATIUS J. REILLY? In this parody of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole, John Kennedy Toole Jr. plunges Ignatius J. Reilly into a New York City winter wonderland, where our Falstaffian hero inadvertently becomes vice president of the Charlie Chan Chinese Fortune Cookie Company, and where he finds a recently unearthed slip of paper that contains an occult secret for overthrowing the governments of the world (in a most unusual way, of course). Ignatius’s parodic adventures would not be complete without his nemesis-friend, Myrna Minkoff. Add to the mix her parents, Mr. Minkoff and Mrs. Minkoff, two inept government agents (is there a redundancy here?), Ignatius’s mother, his mother’s fiancé, a virago or two, John Kennedy Toole, Ed Sullivan, and Myrna’s concupiscent grandmother, Grandmother Horowitz, and you have the ingredients for a parody unlike any other ever written. With a foreword by Franz-Heinrich Katecki. –  Added by Litchatte.com Editor, Murray Ellison

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4 Thoughts to “A Confederacy, A Catcher, and A Cornucopia”

  1. Jim Evans

    Thanks for your comments; lots of fun to read and insightful. As an American Literature major in college and a retired psychiatrist, I have a conglomeration of interests in characters (and people) like Ignatius, Holden — and Huckleberry; your comment about ‘lighting out’ reminded me of him as Huck prepares to light out for the Territory, Disaffected, idiosyncratic, marching to their own drummer, they have established themselves as essential elements in American literature. I’ve been working on a manuscript about such a person who fears he has Asperger’s (“it’s on the autistic spectrum, kind of like ‘autism light’,” he tells the psychiatrist he consults: “I may be twenty to forty percent depending on the circumstances.”). He’s trying to find a woman he can love and who can abide his peculiarities, only to find one and then give her up as he realizes he can never provide her with what she deserves and needs.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jim. I’d like to see your Asperger’s manuscript. I will forward your comment to Rebecca – writer of the Confederacy columns. Do you think Ignatius has Asperger’s?

      1. Jim Evans

        Murray, I’m not sure if in the 50’s Asperger’s had been invented yet. It was considered an autism spectrum disorder for a while;, kind of like ‘autism light’. I think now it has been taken out of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders. Even within the Asperger’s spectrum, there may be a range of how it is expressed or experienced. I’ve self-published 5 novels (all available on Amazon Books); “Aspie” hasn’t been published yet, but if you’d like to read it I can send it to you as an attachment.

  2. Rebecca Elizabeth Jones

    Jim, thank you so much for this insight into Ignatius. I had not really connected him to Huck Finn enough until I read Murray’s interesting post and your enlightening comment. This need to “light out for the territory” seems to be a fundamental motif in American lit. You how have me thinking also about On the Road, Travels with Charley, The Grapes of Wrath and on and on. It does make sense that the literature of a country made up of so many who have come from other places would reflect that value. I had never thought of Ignatius as being on the Aspberger’s spectrum, but that is extremely interesting, as well. Certainly his habit of filibustering on various topics (the evils of “Turkey in the Straw” or Trailways Scenicruisers, for example), long after every eye has glazed over and people are plotting their escapes, seems consistent with sufferers’ inability to perceive normal social cues. Thanks for all of the wonderful food for thought you have provided. — Rebecca Jones

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