A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2

Fortuna's Wheel

As a medievalist, Ignatius reads the writings of the philosopher Boethius, in particular his De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). From that work comes Ignatius's belief in the "wheel of fortune," on which the blind goddess Fortuna spins each person. The attempted arrest by Officer Mancuso and the subsequent car accident convince Ignatius that Fortuna has started him on a bad, downward cycle.

Suffering the trauma of the downward cycle, Ignatius confines himself to his bedroom, where he chronicles his version of history on tablets of Big Chief paper. Further, the stress of these incidents is manifesting itself physically. They have caused his pyloric valve to close--an ailment he suffers anytime he is subjected to anxiety and stress. With his valve sealed shut, gas fills his stomach, and he becomes severely bloated. In an attempt to pry his valve open, Ignatius lays on his stomach and begins bounhing up and down on his bed. Though it does not open the valve, the bouncing does cause a small erection, to which Ignatius decides to tend. Visualizing his childhood dog, Rex, he brings himself to climax.

Vagrancy and the Porter Job

Upon his departure from the precinct, Jones is instructed to find employment. He is convinced that if he does not find a job, he will be arrested for vagrancy. He applies for a porter job at the Night of Joy bar. At first, Lana Lee refuses, since she does not want any "police characters" ruining her investment. But as she realizes that Jones believes he will be arrested if he is unemployed, she decides to seize on the opportunity and exploit him. Lee offers Jones the job for twenty dollars per week, well below minimum wage. He has to work six days from ten to three, cleaning up the bar. Jones is insulted by the wage, but his fear of prison outweighs his indignation, and he accepts the position.

Darlene arrives at the bar late, due to her pet cockatoo having a cold and coughing in her ear all night. She receives a scolding, both for her late arrival and for failing to rid the bar of Ignatius and his mother the day before. The discussion of the fat man with the green hunting cap, traveling with his momma, gets Jones's attention. This sounds like the same character he heard about yesterday at the precinct. Lee leaves to go shopping and instructs her employees that no one is to fool with the cabinet beneath the bar.

Patrolman Mancuso Visits the Reilly Residence

Patrolman Mancuso, wearing a t-shirt, bermuda shorts, and a false beard (his costume for the day), visits the Reilly residence to give Mrs. Reilly an update on the car accident. While Mrs. Reilly and the officer sit down in the kitchen to talk, he can hear Ignatius in the other room, watching a dance show on television and shouting at the offenses to taste and decency. Mancuso tells Mrs. Reilly that she owes one thousand twenty dollars for damage to the building due to the car accident. She is overcome with grief, since her only sources of income are her late husband's Social Security and a "two-bit pension," which are not nearly enough to cover the cost of the accident. She begins crying, lamenting that she will be sent to prison. Ignatius shows complete indifference to the situation. Mrs. Reilly complains that Ignatius has a "heart of ice" and does not care if they lock his poor mother up. Mancuso attempts to cheer her up, offering to take her bowling with his aunt.

After the patrolman leaves, Mrs. Reilly attempts to enter Ignatius's room to discuss her financial problem. She finds the door locked with a "Do Not Disturb" sign on it. Ignatius refuses to let her in, but she starts slamming herself into the door, and he relents. Inside, Mrs. Reilly is besieged by a terrible odor and finds Big Chief tablets strewn on the floor. She demands that Ignatius go out and start looking for a job to help her pay off the debt. Ignatius is outraged, stating that employers will not hire him since they do not appreciate his worldview, and he accuses his mother of being drunk. But Mrs. Reilly won't budge from her demand, so Ignatius decides to give in, concluding that there is "no use fighting Fortuna until the cycle was over."

Ignatius Goes to the Movies

The chapter concludes with Ignatius taking one of his frequent trips to the movie theater. He sits with three Milky Ways and two bags of popcorn. As the movie begins, Ignatius louly voices his disgust with the "abortion" of a movie that is playing itself out on the screen. His commentary causes the children to stare and giggle. Judging from the manager's response, Ignatius is not an infrequent sight at the theater.


The second chapter of the novel reveals that Ignatius suffers from a number of symptoms of depression. After the attempted arrest and car accident, Ignatius remains in bed all day, with no motivation to leave the house or do anything with his life. Further, he sees himself as powerless to control his future. Rather, he believes that the course of his existence depends on the whim of a blind goddess, Fortuna, who decides whether to send his wheel on a downward (bad luck) or upward (good luck) cycle. Additionally, Ignatius's inability to control his eating and his incessant masturbation suggest an addictive personality.

A number of factors may be responsible for these feelings of depression. First, his giant frame and strange appearance distinguish him in any crowd. This is exemplified when Officer Mancuso identifies him as a suspicious character and attempts to arrest him, when he is doing nothing more than standing on the sidewalk. The fact that he is so different might create feelings that he does not fit in with mainstream society, thus adding to his perception that he is an outsider. An additional source of depression may be his failed professional life. As his mother is quick to point out, Ignatius has substantial education, yet he has not put that intelligence to any productive use. Mrs. Reilly may herself be a primary cause of his problems. Rather than playing the role of the doting, supportive mother, Mrs. Reilly repeatedly emphasizes that he is a failure and disgrace for having wasted his education.

This chapter also develops a number of themes introduced in Chapter 1. Ignatius's selfishness is again displayed when Officer Mancuso informs Mrs. Reilly how much she owes for the car accident. As his mother laments how she will ever raise enough money to pay off the debt, and as she fears that the police will throw her in jail for defaulting, Ignatius displays utter indifference. While his frightened mother wonders how she will come up with the sum, Ignatius responds, "I am certain that you can procure funds...I wish that you wouldn't bother me with this."

Race issues are highlighted again when Jones enters the Night of Joy seeking employment as a porter. The arrest of poor black residents for vagrancy was a common practice in the South during the Jim Crow era. Knowing that Jones is concerned about possible vagrancy charges, Lana Lee exploits this fear, and she uses it to pay him a meager salary that falls well below minimum wage. Here we are introduced to the concept of "modern slavery." Though African Americans can no longer be bought and sold or put to work on the plantations as slaves, their situation in the American South during the Jim Crow era retains some characteristics of slavery. The Night of Joy thus transforms into a kind of plantation, with Lana Lee as the slave master, while Jones earns less than a living wage, suffers constant abuse at Lana's hands, and cannot easily escape the situation. The next employer might be no better after all.

Ambiguity in sexual identity is also present in Chapter 2. When Ignatius finds that a small erection has formed, it is not his ex-girlfriend Myrna Minkoff or some other female whom he fantasizes about. Somehow the image of his pet collie, Rex, brings him to orgasm. This scene might be read as representing the loss of innocence as his childhood (represented by his pet and companion, Rex) merges with his adult sexual desires. The sexual ambiguity presented in the novel may be an expression of the confusion that John Kennedy Toole perhaps had with his own sexual identity.

Finally, Ignatus's writings confirm his disdain for the commercial world that surrounds him. Penning his version of history on Big Chief tablets, he records the fall of humanity: "What had once been dedicated to the soul was now dedicated to the sale." In fact, his contempt for commercial society is so strong that he has developed an obsession with it. He spends hours glued to the television and takes frequent trips to the movie theater, not for the entertainment value of the program or film but for the purpose of chastising the products as abominations and offenses to real taste and decency.