Disparity Between Dunce and Genius in Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces

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Disparity Between Dunce and Genius in Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." -Jonathan Swift In Swift's words, there is a potential for the existence of a genius, indicated by the group of dunces acting in opposition. In A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Ignatius J. Reilly plays both parts of the genius and the dunce. As Ignatius plays both parts, the Wheel of Fortuna determines the path of events in his life; although he is not aware of it, Fortuna's spin is also determined by his actions. Just as the wheel is circular, so are the events in his life. Ignatius moves through his own bildingsroman, showing qualities of a genius in his words and qualities of a dunce in his actions at the Night of Joy, Levy Pants, Paradise Vendors, and (to complete the circle) again at the Night of Joy.

At the opening of the novel, Ignatius and his mother escape the clutches of the police by entering a nearby bar, the Night of Joy. Ignatius and his mother meet Darlene and the bartender in the sudden visit. As he speaks to Darlene, Ignatius' stories are unimportant but he tells them in an elevated fashion. Although the content may be trivial, Ignatius uses words that make the stories sound significant. For example, in his story about vomiting on his trip in a Greyhound Scenicruiser, he says, "that was the only time I had ever been out of New Orleans in my life. I think that perhaps it was the lack of a center of orientation that might have upset me"(10). Ignatius continues to speak in an educated style to the bartender, even though his message is condescending. Ignatius tells him that, "it is your duty to sile...

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... he is labeled a "dunce." He does finally break free from the circles of Fortuna when he runs away to New York with Myrna Minkoff, but his "freedom" is only circumscribed by a new location. The reader is left to believe that Ignatius will create more circles and spins in New York. In Confederacy of Dunces, Toole emphasizes the disparity between the "bodily" dunce and the "intellectual" genius to underscore the impossibility of separating the mental and physical capacities of his characters.

Works Cited and Consulted

Clark, William Bedford. "All Toole's Children: A Reading of A Confederacy of Dunces." Essays in Literature 14.2 (1987): 269-280.

McNeil, David. "A Confederacy of Dunces as Reverse Satire: The American Subgenre."

Mississippi Quarterly 38.1 (1984-1985): 33-47.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove Weidenfeld: New York, 1980.
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