"You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being" (375). Chained to a dominant character who is so vast and yet so embryonic that he is not only protagonist but also, in many ways, his own antagonist, The Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, has been called "a broad satirical view of the modern world" (Holditch "Introduction" The Neon Bible xi). Since this short definition fails to explain that the view presented is primarily that of the slug-like character of Ignatius Jacques Reilly, it also fails to take into account that one's view from the womb is, of necessity, somewhat limited. Although Ignatius is thirty years old and has a Master's Degree, he is so emotionally unprepared for life that he hides in the safety and sanctuary of his womb-like bedroom, anxiously peers out at the world around him, and condemns all that he sees. As observed from this view, the world does, indeed, appear to be a fearful place.
Having lost faith in modern religion at a young age, Ignatius claims to embrace a medieval worldview in which fate rather than free will is mandated. Like Oedipus, Ignatius attempts to evade his destiny, but rather than trying to run from it, and thus, running right into it as did Oedipus, Ignatius attempts to hide from his fate by refusing life, itself. Afraid of both life and death, Ignatius lives in a Limbo of his own devising. In his writings, Ignatius declares, "'I have always been forced to exist on the fringes of society, consigned to the Limbo reserved for those who do know reality when they see it'" (30). Of course, in rejecting his own possibilities to participate actively in determining the outcome of events in...
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...res a jump-start--a massive jolt of terror-inspired impulses. Ignatius now reaches such a moment when his life is charged by this powerful psychological and physiological impetus.
In spite of the fear which propels him, there is finally hope for Ignatius. Waddling fearfully into the world, he can now learn to accept his common fate with the rest of humanity--his own humanness and inherent vulnerability in a world over which he has no control. In her frustration and resignation, Ignatius' little mother, an unusual Earth Mother at best, once sadly and plaintively tells her son, "You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being" (375). Therein lies a lesson for us all.
Holditch, W. Kenneth. The Neon Bible. Grove Press: New York, 1989.
Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove Weidenfeld: New York, 1980.
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