What could a dispassionate vendor possibly teach us about life?
Who doesn’t like to find a new hero to look up to and, perhaps, follow their steps? No matter what, we’re all for these characters that show us life might not be right, but in the end, things will work out if we make an effort to achieve it. But to be honest (and I’m guessing it’s not just me), I sometimes feel tired of heroes that are portrayed as superior beings we can barely relate with. So, whenever I meet unconventional characters, I feel a weird need to share them with everybody near me. So as you might have seen already, that’s what this is going to be about: a novel with quite a different character with high hopes of becoming your next hero.
A Confederacy of Dunces isn’t actually a new novel. In fact, it was written during the sixties by John Kennedy Toole and published in 1980, eleven years after he committed suicide. However, it keeps a relevance that, I believe, new readers will find refreshing. So, let’s talk about our not-so-new found hero. Ignatius J. Reilly is a thirty-year-old man living with his mother in New Orleans. He’s described as a brilliant slacker who apparently has no passion or intention to do something in life rather than watching movies, reading lots of books, and eating... Oh boy, does he love food! His daily routines are as simple as his tastes: he eats and eats, goes around the city when necessary, masturbates fervently (no kidding), reads, and once in a while visits the movie theater. Besides that, he works some time at a hotdog cart selling food while barely socializing with people around him.
The narrative of the book is quite as complex as the character of Ignatius. As we get to know him, we realize that, more than just being an unmotivated slacker, all his life revolves around his intellect, and for him that’s the only way to go through life and actually knowing the world. He has a passion for the scholastic life and intellectual world of the Middle Ages. He loves delving into these matters, and dominates them, perhaps even better than any university scholar. In that way, the narrative structure resembles that of Ignatius' favorite text, Consolation of Philosophy, a treatise written in 524 AD by Boethius. So, at the end of the day, although the text might look like a random, crazy, and knotted narrative, it resembles Boethius’ treatise on modern philosophy. Or at least it is a depiction of the contradictions lived during the sixties, which in a way we’re still carrying with us.
It might be easy to think Ignatius is a walking contradiction, but even when we could easily see him just as a random weird guy, he is the most coherent character in the story and a reflection of ourselves in real life. Many have compared him to Don Quixote, the idealist nobleman who reads so much he ends up believing all stories are real. Here, that's not the case. Yes, Ignatius is obsessed with academic books, but he’s well aware of his reality and his role in life. He’s an idealist who kind of believes he doesn’t really belong to the era where he happened to be born.
Ignatius has some sort of disdain for modernity and even hates everything related to popular culture (which is ironic if you think of his main income and his role in society). Throughout the novel, we can see how this loathing grows and grows to the point that it becomes an obsession. He only works to get money to be able to go to the movies and mock the perversity of the world. However, while he mocks and shows his hatred towards modernity, he seems to enjoy most of the comforts it provides, only to later express how stupid and lame they are. I know, he might sound as a jerk, but in fact, his story is a reflection we should sometimes analyze and explore. It makes us question how much we exploit these commodities, without really thinking of what they represent or even looking at other important things in life. There’s where Ignatius’ heroic condition lies, not precisely in his deeds or his life, but on how his own contradictions represent ourselves in real life.
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