A Confederacy of Dunces Summary and Analysis

Chapter 9

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The Health Board Violation

Mr. Clyde is berating Ignatius. Apparently a health official witnessed Ignatius playing with a cat in the gutter while on his hot dog route, and a complaint has been issued from the Board of Health. Moreover, Ignatius is still not bringing in much money, since he spends more time sitting and eating the Paradise products than selling them. Yet, Clyde decides not to fire Ignatius, because he at least shows up every day (though certainly not on time) and because he sympathizes with the sad tales he has heard about Ignatius's home life (Ignatius has exaggeratingly told him of his "drunken mother, the damages that had to be paid, the threat of penury for both son and mother, the mother's lascivious friends").

Clyde assigns him to a new route, the French Quarter, to target tourists. Also, from now on he needs to use gimmicks. The news that his new route will be in a "sinkhole of vice" leaves Ignatius in a dark mood for the rest of the day. To make his mood worse, when he returns home his mother starts interrogating him about whether or not he is a communist (a suspicion she no doubt picked up from her new suitor, Claude). Ignatius assures her that he is no communist and that, in fact, he would prefer a "good, strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king." This remark, however, only gives his mother greater concern that there is something wrong with her son.

A new letter has arrived from Myrna. She characterizes his previous letter as a "anti-semitic prank" and hypothesizes that his hostility toward her lecture was merely a manifestation of his feelings of failure. She urges him to do something, to volunteer somewhere. Myrna advises that an open heart is the key to an open valve.

The Southern Belle

Darlene is finally ready to reveal her bird act to Lana. The act consists of Darlene, adorned in an orange dress with rings attached to it, gyrating around the stage while the cockatoo pulls on the rings, thus yanking the dress from Darlene's body. As Darlene prepares to give Lana a preview of the routine in action, Lana instructs Jones to put on the record player. He responds that twenty dollars a week does not cover operating a record player, and Lana predictably threatens to call the police and report Jones for vagrancy. In response, Jones vows that he will one day crack the mystery of the orphan deliveries, and then he will be the one calling the police on Lana.

Darlene finally begins her routine, and Lana is horrified when she sees Darlene bumping around the stage, moaning "oh, oh." Lana, meanwhile, has come up with her own idea for an act. Claiming that what customers really want to see is a "sweet, clean virgin" getting insulted and stripped, she devises a routine whereby Darlene will play an innocent Southern Belle on a plantation who gets her clothes ripped from her body by her pet bird. Further, Lana sees this act as an opportunity to get back at Jones, and she informs him that he will be working as the doorman for the plantation.

While Lana is trying futilely to teach Darlene her lines, Jones notices that Lana has left the cabinet beneath the bar unlocked. Inside he sees ten neatly-stacked packages wrapped in plain paper, as well as a globe, some chalk, and a book. Not wanting to sabotage his discovery (he is sure that Lana will notice if anything has been moved), he takes a pencil from the bar and writes the Night of Joy address along the side of each package in minutely small writing. He hopes the address will bring a professional saboteur into the bar.

The Ultimatum

At the precinct, a very sick Patrolman Mancuso pleads with the Sergeant to take him out of the bus station bathroom. He tells the Sergeant that he is coming down with "pneumodia." The Sergeant gives in and agrees to give Mancuso another chance on the streets. He warns Mancuso that if he does not apprehend a suspicious character within two weeks, he will be off the force.

Ignatius the Pirate

From Ignatius's next entry in his Journal of a Working Boy, we learn that Mr. Clyde's "gimmick" for Ignatius is to dress him up like a pirate before sending him off to the French Quarter. The costume, unfortunately, was designed for a body of ordinary dimensions, not for Ignatius's hulking frame, and a compromise must be reached. Ignatius ties the red pirate scarf about his hunting cap, screws in one golden hoop earring, and affixes a black plastic cutlass to the side of his vendor's smock. Thus attired as a true swashbuckler, he ventures to the French Quarter (though only after having a sword fight with his employer--cutlass versus rusty fork).

Dr. Talc

Dr. Talc is flirting with an attractive young student, contemplating whether to invite her to have a drink with him. He soon realizes, however, that her true motive is to find out what grade she received on the report she turned in two months ago. As he searches for the unreturned (and likely ungraded) essay, a paper airplane which was sent through his window some years ago now drops to the floor. It reads that Talc had been found "guilty of misleading and perverting the young" and proposes that he be hung by his "underdeveloped testicles until dead." The paper is signed, "Zorro." The girl drops the airplane into her purse.

Analysis

Ignatius has a knack for exaggeration. He describes his mother as a raging alcoholic who has fallen deeply into debt and who has thrown poor Ignatius out into the working world, while she is out drunkenly cavorting with her lascivious cohorts (Santa and Mancuso). Ignatius uses this exaggeration to frame his home life as particularly pitiful and thereby to garner sympathy for himself. Surprisingly, the ploy often enables him to escape the consequences of his misadventures. Here, for example, Ignatius avoids being fired from Paradise Vendors--even though he consistently comes into work late, he never brings in any profit (both because he spends more time sitting and resting than he does selling hot dogs, and because he eats most of the product himself), and he has drawn the ire of the Board of Health. He gets away with all of this because Mr. Clyde feels so bad about what he believes to be Ignatius's terrible home life. This pattern is repeated later in the novel, when Ignatius successfully diverts blame from himself for the libelous letter to Mr. Abelman, partly by getting Mr. Levy to pity him.

Earlier in the novel, the meager wages paid to Jones, his inability to escape employment for fear of vagrancy charges, and Lana's tyrannical behavior, had made the Night of Joy seem like a modern-day plantation. In this chapter, that symbolism is made explicit: Lana decides to turn the bar into a plantation scene for Darlene's strip show. In a particularly insulting blow to Jones, she sets him up as a slave and forces him to work at the door. Jones, however, is not without recourse; he still has sabotage as a viable option for rebelling. Here, an opportunity for sabotage presents itself when Lana absentmindedly leaves the cabinet under the bar unlocked and Jones happens upon her stash of pornographic photographs, packaged and ready for distribution to the orphans. Jones seizes the opportunity for sabotage when he writes the Night of Joy address on each of the packages.

Despite Ignatius's many flaws, no one can deny that he is highly intelligent. Though Ignatius has not put his intelligence to any productive use (as Mrs. Reilly makes clear time and again), he nonetheless places a great deal of value on knowledge itself. The premium which Ignatius places on knowledge may explain why he is outraged by and militant toward Dr. Talc, who professes to be a teacher and academic but in reality is a fraud with a complete lack of knowledge. In every scene so far, Dr. Talc has been the fraud that Ignatius has perceived, even if "Zorro" exaggerates the situation.