The Modern Grotesque Hero in John Kennedy Toole's, A Confederacy of Dunces

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The Modern Grotesque Hero in John Kennedy Toole's, A Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole unleashes a compelling criticism of modern society in the principal work he produced in his short lifetime, A Confederacy of Dunces. Using masterfully crafted comedy, Toole actually strengthens his disparaging position on the modern world. Boisterously and unabashedly opinionated, Ignatius Reilly, the principal character of this novel, colors the narrative with a poignant humor that simultaneously evokes both laughter and pity from readers. Near the beginning of the story, his mother's financial difficulties suddenly force Ignatius to leave the womb-like security of his bedroom and seek employment, making him abandon his project of writing a scathing description of "the disaster course that history had been taking for the past four centuries" (Toole 41) on childish Big Chief tablets. The action of the novel revolves around Ignatius's experience in society as he bumbles from job to job with his ever-present sense of superiority.

His outward slovenly appearance and the incongruity between his professed beliefs and his actions create in Ignatius the epitome of the modern grotesque hero. Walker Percy wrote: "'Toole's greatest achievement is Ignatius Reilly, slob, intellectual, ideologue, deadbeat, goof off, who should repulse the reader with his gargantuan bloats, his thunderous contempt and one-man all out war against all of modern times...'" (Samway 345). Using the grotesque to further highlight the satirical conflict that man encounters with modern society, John Kennedy Toole, in A Confederacy of Dunces, artfully attacks the economic, religious, and social states of present day America.

The use of such a grotesque principal cha...

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