A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5

Police Problems

Lana Lee is reading a news story to Darlene. Three women--Frieda Club, Betty Bumper, and Liz Steele--were arrested for causing a public nuisance. The incident occurred when an unidentified man made a proposal to one of the three, and her two companions promptly attacked him. The man fled from the scene and was seen wearing bowling shoes. The fleeing man is, of course, Patrolman Mancuso, who is continuing to run into bad luck in his quest to arrest suspicious characters. As punishment for this incident, the Sergeant tells Officer Mancuso that he is now assigned to the bathroom at the bus station, where he must sit in a stall for eight hours each day.

Lana is having police trouble of her own. Ever since Officer Mancuso told the Sergeant about the Night of Joy, undercover officers have been congregating at the bar each night. The police are a particular threat to Lana, since her low-wage porter would be terrified if he knew the club has essentially become a second precinct--she would no longer be able to exploit him. Lana can easily spot which customers are really police officials, and she makes sure they get the worst service possible. Darlene, on the other hand, lacks this talent, and Lana needs to come up with a way to ensure that Darlene does not try to sell them a drink. Darlene's dream is to become an "exotic," and Darlene suggests that she and her bird audition to dance on the Night of Joy stage. Though horrified at the prospect of Darlene and her animal gyrating on her stage, Lana decides that it is probably safer than having Darlene on the stools with the police.

The police presence and Jones's suspicions also have affected Lana's side business with George. When he comes in to pick up that day's packages, Lana tells him that from now on he needs to come by around one o'clock while Jones is away on his lunch break. George protests that he cannot deliver the packages to the orphans until three, and he wants to know what he should do with the packages until that time. Lana suggests he check them into the bus station.

Into the Factory

After presenting Miss Trixie with a sandwich and a new pair of tube socks, and after decorating the Levy Pants office with a cross, Ignatius decides that his condition has improved enough for him to venture into the Levy Pants factory. The scene which Ignatius confronts strikes him as "mechanized Negro slavery; it represents the progress which the Negro has made from picking cotton to tailoring it." Ignatius believes the source of the factory workers' apathy must be the jazz music which is pouring out from the loudspeaker. In an attempt to liven up the working environment, Ignatius finds the switch and turns off the music. The silence, however, is immediately met with a "boorish roar," and Ignatius realizes he has made a mistake. The music is turned back on, and Ignatius decides he must regain the laborers' favor. Having spent countless hours watching those "blighted children on television dancing to this sort of music," he is well aware of the "physical spasm which it was supposed to elicit," and he begins his own version of the dance moves. Soon he loses his balance and crashes to the factory floor. The factory workers, happy to have a distraction in their otherwise monotonous day, find this odd figure to be wildly entertaining. They spend the day chatting with Ignatius and telling him about conditions in the factory. He is shocked to learn that the average worker earns less than thirty dollars per week, and he believes he may have found the means to get back at the Myrna Minkoffs of the world.

Dr. Talc

Dr. Talc is a renowned lecturer on British history and one of Ignatius's former professors. He is also a fraud who lacks knowledge in general and, particularly, knowledge of British history. As he looks through a stack of essays which have long sat ungraded at his desk, he comes across a letter that Ignatius once sent him as a student. The letter states that Talc's ignorance of the subject he teaches warrants the death penalty and adds that his days are numbered. Moreover, according to the letter, his will not be a martyr's death, but instead he will perish as the "total ass" that he really is. It is signed, "Zorro." Dr. Talc wonders aloud whatever happened to Ignatius J. Reilly.


Poor Officer Mancuso's hard work and dedication to the police force continue to go unappreciated and unrewarded. Mancuso loyally follows his sergeant's orders and attempts to apprehend "suspicious characters." Each time he does so, however, the situation ends up going badly for him--resulting in his being assaulted or even arrested--and he receives further castigation from his superior for his ineptitude. Hard work is not enough; one must also be prudent. Still, it is ironic that the Sergeant punishes and berates Mancuso for these fiascos, since the Sergeant is somewhat responsible for them. It is the Sergeant who has demanded that Mancuso dress in ridiculous costumes each day, and it is the patrolman's bizarre appearance that leads to the attacks and arrests. In this chapter, Mancuso's latest misadventure occurs when he confronts some suspicious characters (here, three particularly rowdy lesbians) and finds himself under attack. Although Mancuso thought he was carrying out his boss's orders, he ends up confined to a stall in the bus station bathroom.

At the Night of Joy bar, we see the use of sex as a different kind of tool for attaining the goals of social advancement and financial wealth. Both Darlene and Lana Lee utilize their bodies in pursuit of success. For Darlene, being an exotic dancer represents an opportunity to raise herself above the status of lowly B-Girl--perhaps to gain the publicity needed for fame and fortune. Similarly, Lana, whose body has always served her well, poses for nude photographs, which she views as a lucrative side business that can supplement her investment in the Night of Joy. Despite their choice of product, they are showing entrepreneurial initiative.

The image of the plantation and the theme of "modern slavery" are evoked powerfully as Ignatius ventures into the Levy Pants factory. When he enters the "body" of Levy Pants, Ignatius sees that the black workers have not progressed far from the days of legalized slavery. Though they are no longer in the fields picking cotton, they have been transplanted into the factory to tailor it. The meager wages they receive (less than thirty dollars per week) and their inability to escape their present employment (since "no good jobs would be available" for them elsewhere in New Orleans) leave the workers, like Jones at the Night of Joy, in a state of de facto slavery, as Ignatius sees it. (Though he is something of a historian, he does not seem to fully appreciate the horrors of 19th-century slavery in the South.)

Ignatius emerges as a possible champion for these oppressed laborers in that his "intense and deeply felt convictions concerning social injustice" lead him to make the "courageous, daring, and aggressive decision" to lead the workers in a demonstration against that "fiend" Gonzalez and the Levy Pants Plan. Ignatius is an unlikely hero for this movement. First, he knows almost nothing about the group he is attempting to champion. His view of black Americans is shaped largely by stereotypes (he refers to his ideas that they eat watermelons and can terrorize whites), and he concedes that he has "had little to do with them." Moreover, helping the workers to attain a better wage and improved social standing is a direct contradiction of Ignatius's views on class and consumerism. He specifically states that he cannot understand why "many of the Negroes wish to become active members of the American middle class." Ignatius further says he does "not wish to witness the awful spectacle of the Negroes moving upward into the middle class." A question thus remains about why, in light of these views, Ignatius would organize this protest. In part it could be because of the perceived injustice, but the main answer seems clear: he is responding to Myrna Minkoff. Ignatius sees the demonstration as an opportunity to get even with Myrna for her latest effrontery. Apparently, his desire to prove his superiority over Myrna in promoting justice outweighs any views he holds regarding the dangers of encouraging the growth of American middle-class consumerism.