Ignatius J. Reilly
Ignatius Jacques Reilly is something of a modern Don Quixote—eccentric, idealistic, and creative, sometimes to the point of delusion. In his foreword to the book, Walker Percy describes Ignatius as a "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one". He disdains modernity, particularly pop culture. The disdain becomes his obsession: he goes to movies in order to mock their perversity and express his outrage with the contemporary world's lack of "theology and geometry". He prefers the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages, and the Early Medieval philosopher Boethius in particular. However, he also enjoys many modern comforts and conveniences and is given to claiming that the rednecks of rural Louisiana hate all modern technology, which they associate with progress. The workings of his pyloric valve play an important role in his life, reacting strongly to incidents in a fashion that he likens to Cassandra in terms of prophetic significance.
Ignatius is of the mindset that he does not belong in the world and that his numerous failings are the work of some higher power. He continually refers to the goddess Fortuna as having spun him downwards on her wheel of fortune. Ignatius loves to eat, and his masturbatory fantasies lead in strange directions. His mockery of obscene images is portrayed as a defensive posture to hide their titillating effect on him. Although considering himself to have an expansive and learned worldview, Ignatius has an aversion to ever leaving the town of his birth, and frequently bores friends and strangers with the story of his sole, abortive journey out of New Orleans, a trip to Baton Rouge on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bus, which Ignatius recounts as a traumatic ordeal of extreme horror.
Myrna Minkoff, referred to by Ignatius as "that minx", is a Jewish beatnik from New York City, whom Ignatius met while she was in college in New Orleans. Though their political, social, religious, and personal orientations could hardly be more different, Myrna and Ignatius fascinate one another. The novel repeatedly refers to Myrna and Ignatius having engaged in tag-team attacks on the teachings of their college professors. For most of the novel, she is seen only in the regular correspondence which the two sustain since her return to New York, a correspondence heavily weighted with sexual analysis on the part of Myrna and contempt for her apparent sacrilegious activity by Ignatius. Officially, they both deplore everything the other stands for. Though neither of them will admit it, their correspondence indicates that, separated though they are by half a continent, many of their actions are meant to impress one another.
Mrs. Irene Reilly is the mother of Ignatius. She has been widowed for 21 years. At first, she allows Ignatius his space and drives him where he needs to go, but throughout the course of the novel she learns to stand up for herself. She also has a drinking problem, most frequently indulging in muscatel, although Ignatius exaggerates that she is a raving, abusive drunk.
She falls for Claude Robichaux, a fairly well-off man with a railroad pension and rental properties. At the end of the novel, she decides she will marry Claude. But first, she agrees with Santa Battaglia (who has not only recently become Mrs. Reilly's new best friend, but also harbors an intense dislike for Ignatius) that Ignatius is insane and arranges to have him sent to a mental hospital.
- Santa Battaglia, a "grammaw" who is friends with Mrs. Reilly, and has a marked disdain for Ignatius
- Claude Robichaux, an old man constantly on the lookout for any "communiss" who might infiltrate America; he takes an interest in protecting Irene
- Angelo Mancuso, an inept police officer, the nephew of Santa Battaglia
- Lana Lee, a pornographic model who runs the "Night Of Joy", a downscale French Quarter strip club
- George, Lana's distributor who sells photographs of her to high-school children of his age
- Darlene, a goodhearted but none-too-bright girl, who aspires to be a "Night Of Joy" stripper, with a pet cockatoo
- Burma Jones, black janitor for the "Night Of Joy" who holds on to his below-minimum wage job only to avoid being arrested for vagrancy
- Mr. Clyde, the frustrated owner of Paradise Vendors, a hot dog vendor business
- Gus Levy, the owner of Levy Pants, a family business in the Bywater neighborhood
- Mrs. Levy, Gus's wife, who attempts to psychoanalyze her husband and Miss Trixie despite being completely unqualified to do so
- Miss Trixie, an aged clerk at Levy Pants who suffers from dementia and compulsive hoarding
- Mr. Gonzalez, the meek office manager at Levy Pants
- Dorian Greene, a flamboyant French Quarter homosexual who puts on elaborate parties
- Frieda Club, Betty Bumper, and Liz Steele, a trio of aggressive lesbians who run afoul of Ignatius
- Dr. Talc, a mediocre professor at Tulane who had the misfortune of teaching Myrna and Ignatius
- Miss Annie, the disgruntled neighbor of the Reillys who professes an addiction to headache medicine