A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4

The Abelman Letter

Mr. Levy briefly stops by the Levy Pants office to see if he has any personal mail. After being introduced to the new employee, Ignatius Reilly, he is told that one of the distributors, Abelman's Dry Goods, has complained that the last shipment of trousers had pants only two feet long in the leg. Mr. Gonzalez assures Mr. Levy that he has written Mr. Abelman and will resolve the matter. Once Mr. Levy leaves and Gonzalez goes into the Levy Pants factory to speak with the foreman, Ignatius takes it upon himself to revise the letter to Mr. Abelman. Ignatius is convinced that "If Levy Pants was to succeed, the first step would be imposing a heavy hand upon its detractors." The amended letter is addressed to "Mr. I. Ableman, Mongoloid, Esq." and claims that Levy Pants intentionally sent the defective pants in order to test Abelman's Dry Goods. A loyal and dependable outlet of Levy Pants products would be able to make the two-foot long pants into a fashion trend and sell them to the public--a test Abelman's Dry Goods has clearly failed. The letter threatens that if Mr. Abelman is to molest Levy Pants again, he shall "feel the sting of the lash" across his "pitiful shoulders."

The Admirer

Mrs. Reilly can hardly believe that Ignatius is finally working and that she has a quiet house to herself. She reflects back to the night that she and Mr. Reilly went to the movies to see Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in Red Dust. Upon returning from the movie, Mr. Reilly had tried one of his "indirect approaches"--and Ignatius was conceived. Mr. Reilly never went to another movie again.

Mrs. Reilly's recollection is interupted by the ringing of the telephone. She answers the phone, and Santa Battaglia (Patrolman Mancuso's aunt, with whom Mrs. Reilly has been spending her evenings bowling) tells her that at the fish market, an old man came up and inquired about Mrs. Reilly. He said that he had been at the bowling alley the other night and had seen Santa with a woman that had "sorta red hair." After Santa told the old man that the red-haired woman was her friend Mrs. Reilly, he merely tipped his hat and walked out of the market.

Levy's Lounge

Levy's Lounge is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Levy, located on the coast, far away from the hassles of the Levy Pants factory. The lounge is filled with all of the material comforts that ownership of Levy Pants has afforded the Levys. The only thing Mr. and Mrs. Levy find ungratifying about the home is each other. Mrs. Levy spends her days complaining about the chance Mr. Levy has squandered to take Levy Pants nationwide, and she berates him for giving his late father a bad name. Mr. Levy retorts that his father was nothing but a mean, cheap man who went out of his way to ignore Mr. Levy's suggestions and initiatives. Mrs. Levy assures him that he is lucky to have her around, since at least she has an interest in Levy Pants--and, more importantly, in Miss Trixie.

Journal of the Working Boy

Ignatius decides against going to the movie theater, since the film being shown was widely praised and he is not interested in seeing it. Instead, he stays home and begins a journal of his entrance into the working world of the Twentieth Century. In this journal, he reveals some of the innovations that he has brought to Levy Pants. For example, by arriving to work one hour later than expected, he can ensure that he is more rested and refreshed. Additionally, he has an innovation in connection with the filing system: by throwing files in the trash, he opens up more filing space and avoids a potential fire hazard. Ignatius describes Miss Trixie as a wise creature who knows a great deal and who simply uses apathy as a facade. He resolves to bring her a pair of absorbent athletic socks, hoping the gesture will lead her to conversation.

Ignatius also notes in his journal that on several occasions, he has heard "hissing and roaring" through the factory door. His "presently somewhat enervated condition" prevents him from visiting the factory right now, but he vows to do so in the future, since he has "deep and abiding convictions concerning social action" and is "certain that I can perhaps do something to aid these factory folk."


Toole's portrayal of Ignatius and Mr. Levy in this chapter provides a two-pronged assault on mainstream American values from characters who are not very likeable. American society emphasizes financial riches as a central objective, prescribing hard work as the means for achieving it. These characters attack both of these notions. Ignatius is the antithesis of hard work. His innovations at Levy Pants, such as coming into work late to ensure that he is fully rested and clearing space in the filing cabinets by throwing the files away, are designed to allow him to do as little work as possible. Yet, Ignatius is a welcome addition to the Levy Pants office. When he neglects his filing for the entire morning in order to put up a sign that says "Department of Research and Reference, I. J. Reilly, Custodian," Gonzalez merely responds that the sign is "nice" and that "It gives the office a certain tone." At this point it is not clear that Ignatius will not succeed in this manner after all, although he seems to remain far from happy.

Mr. Levy's character provides a critique of the idea that material wealth is the ultimate goal to be strived for. Mr. Levy is the richest character in the novel, living a life of luxury and comfort. His home, Levy's Lounge, is "as sensually comfortable as the human womb supposedly is," offering a plethora of modern amenities including chairs that sink "several inches at the lightest touch" as well as "contour chairs, a massage table, and a motorized exercising board." Yet, despite reaching the apex that most of the rest of society aims for, Mr. Levy has not prepared himself to enjoy his existence; his life is not pleasant. Professionally, he has a business he hates and which he actively avoids. At home, he has a wife whose presence he finds "ungratifying" and who constantly derides him for being a failure and squandering his opportunity to take Levy Pants national. To a large extent, Mrs. Levy's reminders of her husband's shortcomings mirror Mrs. Reilly's verbal barrages against Ignatius. The difference here is that unlike Ignatius, Mr. Levy has obtained financial comfort--but it is an empty comfort. This situation suggests that wealth is not the equivalent of success or happiness.

Ignatius views Myrna Minkoff as a nemesis, labeling her a "trollop" in the previous chapter and referring to her as an "offensive minx" in Chapter 4. Ignatius and Myrna have wildly divergent worldviews. Most evidently, with the exception of perverse fantasies that involve his childhood pet, Ignatius is largely asexual and eschews sexual contact with the opposite sex. Myrna, by contrast, seems to embrace her sexuality and channel it through all aspects of her life. Given this divergence of outlooks, the animosity between them is not surprising. Still, there appears to be a degree of affection between the two. Though she accuses him of paranoid delusions, Myrna appears to be genuinely concerned about Ignatius's well being. And although he calls her offensive, Ignatius's actions seem largely aimed at impressing the minx. That is, in the closing section of Chapter 4, he speculates that the Levy Pants factory workers may allow him to do something positive for justice, which is an opportunity to prove himself to Myrna.