The structure of A Confederacy of Dunces reflects the structure of Ignatius's favorite book, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. Like Boethius' book, A Confederacy of Dunces is divided into chapters that are further divided into a varying number of subchapters. Key parts of some chapters are outside of the main narrative. In Consolation, sections of narrative prose alternate with metrical verse. In Confederacy, such narrative interludes vary more widely in form and include light verse, journal entries by Ignatius, and also letters between himself and Myrna. A copy of the Consolation of Philosophy within the narrative itself also becomes an explicit plot device in several ways.
Certain aspects of this novel mirror author Toole's real-life experiences. For instance, Ignatius' two main jobs through the course of the novel are pants factory worker and hot dog vendor. For a brief time after graduating from Tulane, author Toole worked at a pants factory. During free time, he spent days in New Orleans' French Quarter, where he helped a friend sell food from a stand. Post-college, Toole also lived with his mother, who was thought to be overprotective. However, in other aspects, the author was quite unlike his most famous character; Toole enjoyed travel, and was known for being neat and well dressed.