Study Guide

A Confederacy of Dunces Race

By John Kennedy Toole

Race

Race relations aren't generally all that funny. Persecution, hatred, injustice, cruelty, systematic oppression—downers all. Or so you'd think.

A Confederacy of Dunces is set in the 1960s in the South, at a period and in a place where the Civil Rights movement was very visible, but had by no means ended discrimination against black people.

The novel's attitude toward the changes in race relations is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, Confederacy pokes fun at Civil Rights activism, lampooning both Myrna's earnest desire to do something and save somebody and Ignatius's incompetent and clearly egotistical attempt to organize a racial demonstration at Levy Pants. On the other hand, the book also at a number of points ridicules the racism of white people, and is clearly on the side of Burma Jones when he takes his revenge on Lana for exploiting him.

Overall, then, the book uses race as it does most things—as an excuse to make fun of everybody, no matter their ideological allegiances. Though the novel does to some extent use humor to comment on race, it's in general more interested in using race as a backdrop for humor.

Questions About Race

  1. Is New Orleans a segregated city in Confederacy? Explain your evidence.
  2. Is Jones's treatment at the Night of Joy racist? Explain your answer.
  3. Does the novel support the Civil Rights movement? Explain your answer.

Chew on This

Confederacy uses many stereotypes of homosexuals, but is careful to avoid stereotypes of black people.

Because the novel does not believe in justice, it has trouble taking the Civil Rights movement seriously.

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