Study Guide

A Confederacy of Dunces Wealth

By John Kennedy Toole

Wealth

"I made up my mind. You gonna go out and get you a job." Oh, what low joke was Fortuna playing on him now? Arrest, accident, job. Where would this dreadful cycle ever end? (2.194)

For Ignatius, having to get a job is like a freak weather event—it's a horrible and cruel twist of fate. You sort of want to shake him and shout buck up, but he'd just tell you that you're hopelessly corrupted by decadent modernism and don't understand his valve. So save your breath.

"No! You will not mortgage this house." He pounded a great paw into the mattress. "The whole sense of security which I have been trying to develop would crumble. I will not have any disinterested party controlling my domicile. I couldn't stand it. Just the thought of it makes my hands break out." (2.223)

We don't think Boethius would whine about how his hands will break out if he doesn't have a secure domicile. Ignatius is really wedded to routine… and this quote shows how essential money is to routine. Ignatius may claim he doesn't want to deal with the modern world, but his daily life in said modern world wouldn't be possible without cash.

"I intend to draw Miss Trixie out rather shortly. I suspect that this Medusa of capitalism has many valuable insight and more than one pithy observation to offer." (3.187)

The Medusa was a horrible monster with snakes for hair, and looking into her face turned the viewer to stone. Miss Trixie is a little old lady who keeps accounts and frequently falls asleep. She's only a Medusa of capitalism if you're determined to see anything having to do with money as inherently frightening and dangerous, or if you are desperate to make yourself and your surroundings seem dramatic.

"Poor? Did I hear poor? When the dollars are literally flowing into this home from my labors? And flowing out even more rapidly."

"Don't start that again, Ignatius. I only got twenty dollars out of you this week, and I almost had to get down on my knees and beg for it. Look at all them thing-a-ma-jigs you been buying. Look at that movie camera you brung home today." (5.155-156)

Money is an ideal source of bickering, which is probably why Toole decided to start the novel off with a financial disaster in the form of the car wreck. Once you need to make installment payments, the opportunities for argument and kvetching are infinite. If you're smart, you'll take our word for it and avoid learning this lesson for yourself from experience.

"Personally, I would agitate quite adamantly if I suspected that anyone were attempting to help me upward toward the middle class. I would agitate against the bemused person who was attempting to help me upward that is." (5.185)

Ignatius is saying that he would not agitate to move into the middle-class the way black people are doing. This rather ignores the fact that, though the Reillys certainly aren't very well off at all, they do own their own home, which puts them a heckofa lot closer to the middle-class than someone like Burma Jones. Why doesn't Ignatius agitate to be really poor if he's so anti-middle-class? We're sure people would rob him of all his assets if he just asked them.

Long years of practice had made her rump an unusually versatile and dexterous thing.

Her body had always amazed her. She had received it free of charge, yet she had never bought anything that had helped her as much as that body had. […] She repaid the gift by giving it magnificent care, expert service and maintenance that was given with the emotionless precision of a mechanic. (9.103-104)

Lana sees her body as a productive input; it's part of her wealth. She treats it, from toe to rump, as investment capital, and converts it to money (via pornographic pictures or, it is suggested, prostitution) with efficiency.

"My sweater cost me forty dollars," the young man said. He felt the worn portion that had been scraped by the cutlass. "Are you prepared to pay for it?"

"Of course not. Never become involved in an altercation with a pauper." (10.146-147)

Ignatius uses his poverty as a shield; he can't give you any money back, so he can steal (hot dogs) or damage (sweaters) with impunity. It doesn't always work, of course (Mr. Clyde threatens him physically, and then makes him work as a hot dog vendor), but Ignatius figures there's nothing wrong with trying.

"Money?" Ignatius asked happily. "Thank God." He quickly pocketed the two bills. "I'd rather not ask the obscene motive for this. I'd like to think that you're attempting to make amends in your simple way for slandering me on my dismal first day with this ludicrous wagon." (11.291)

Ignatius is supposed to be committed to the Boethian idea that the modern decadence of money is against God, so he probably shouldn't be thanking God for money. But it's hard to keep your eyes on the heavens when you really want to go to the movies to see Doris Day perform hideous rites of decadence

The total was sixty cents, a sum that limited and blocked escape routes. (14.58)

Wealth gives you options. If you don't have any money and they're coming to lock you up, you're stuck… unless Myrna sweeps down to save you.