Study Guide

Burma Jones in A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole

Burma Jones

"'I'm workin' in modern slavery. If I quit, I get report for being vagran'" (6.17), says Burma Jones. And he's more or less correct; Lana Lee at the Night of Joy is able to get him to sweep her bar and perform odd jobs for almost nothing, because the police are eager to arrest any black man who doesn't have a job. Jones's choices are pretty much to work for nothing or go to jail.

He doesn't, however, have to do a good job. He wears dark glasses inside the dim Night of Joy, as if to make sure he won't be able to see the dirt on the floor he's supposed to sweep, and he spends much of the novel working to sabotage Lana Lee in one way or another. He encourages her to give Darlene a try as a dancer, because he knows she'll be terrible, and he also tries to get Ignatius to come to the bar, because he figures anywhere Ignatius is there will be trouble.

Jones dutifully works to expose Lana's illegal business, in the hopes that the police will put her away and he won't have to work for her anymore, which is what eventually happens. Lana would have been better off to just pay him decently, especially after he figured out she was involved in shady business. Her compulsive need to rob everyone is her undoing as a criminal.

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