A Confederacy of Dunces: Chapter 2
Summary of Chapter Two
The chapter opens with Ignatius writing his historical and social commentary on Big Chief tablets, which he stores under his bed: “With the breakdown of the Medieval system, the gods of Chaos, Lunacy, and Bad Taste gained ascendancy” (p. 33), he writes. Ignatius feels called to witness the breakdown of civilization with his copious notes, comparing twentieth-century New Orleans to medieval Europe. This chapter introduces Boethius and the image of the Wheel of Fortune, from medieval Roman philosopher Boethius (ca. 480- 524 CE) whose work, The Consolation of Philosophy (524 CE) is like the Bible to Ignatius. In his book, Boethius portrays Fortuna, the goddess of Fortune, as ruling the world. She is blind and capricious ruling the fates on a wheel in which one’s fortune may be at the top one minute, and cycle down to the bottom the next minute, for no particular reason. Throughout the book, Ignatius blames Fortuna’s wheel for turning and creating bad cycles in his life.
Several excerpts of Ignatius’s commentary appear in the chapter to contrast the medieval world, perfect according to Ignatius, to the chaotic modern world in which the merchants have won out over the philosophers. He doodles in the margins of the tablet when he gets bored. He wants to use his notes to write a book showing “the disaster course that history had been taking for the past four centuries” (p. 34). He has been working on it for five years with little results. Mrs. Reilly shouts at Ignatius through his bedroom door that Patrolman Mancuso is coming to talk to her about the car accident.
At the Night of Joy bar, Jones asks Lana Lee for a job. He is being forced by the police to get a job to avoid being arrested as a vagrant. He asks her, “help keep a poor color boy outta jail. I keep the picket off, give the Night of Joy a good civil right ratin” (p. 37). She agrees because she can employ Jones at less than minimum wage, a sort of blackmail to make him do as she wants or she will tell the cops. Jones is unhappy having to sweep and do the dirty work at the bar. He makes constant snide remarks under his breath and befriends Darlene, the bar waitress. They both feel exploited by Lana Lee
Lana Lee berates Darlene for wanting to be a dancer at the bar instead of making the customers buy more drinks. She scolds that she should never have let the Reillys in. Darlene explains why she befriended Ignatius’s mother at the bar, who was being treated badly by her son. Jones and Darlene discuss the strangeness of Ignatius’s appearance. Jones has already heard about him from the old man at the jail.
Meanwhile Patrolman Mancuso visits the Reilly home on Constantinople Street and explains to poor widow Reilly that she owes a thousand dollars in damages to the owner of the building she destroyed with the car. She asks Ignatius to go to work to help her pay it and save their house from having to be sold to raise the money. Ignatius is indignant that he should have to stoop to working. He tells her something will turn up; he is busy watching “American Bandstand” and criticizing it for its obscene dancing while he has donuts and milk, exclaiming, “The United needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency” (p. 50).
Mrs. Reilly makes friends with Mancuso who sympathizes with her problem of what to do with Ignatius. She cries because her son no longer loves her or is nice to her. Mancuso invites her to go bowling with him and his aunt sometime. Mrs. Reilly threatens to sell the house and go live in an old people’s home if Ignatius won’t help her. Ignatius goes to his room and writes a paragraph about the TV show on his tablets. To keep his mother from pestering him about working, he criticizes her for entertaining a man like Mancuso in their home. He is their “nemesis,” the reason their wheel of fortune is spinning downward (p. 58). Ignatius tells her it will be hard for him to get a job when the employers “can see that I am forced to function in a century which I loathe” (p. 60). They discuss his employment history. He was fired from the public library and from a temporary teaching job at the college in Baton Rouge. He finally agrees to look for a job: “There was no use fighting Fortuna until the cycle was over” (p. 62). They briefly discuss his old girlfriend, Myrna, who is in New York involved in political demonstrations.
Ignatius goes to the movies every night and almost gets thrown out for speaking out loud his running commentary on the quality of the film. He criticizes its bad taste and leaves during the love scene.
Commentary on Chapter Two
Despite Ignatius’s intellectual capabilities, he acts like an overgrown child. He writes on Big Chief tablets, those popular lined tablets for children so they can make the words in a straight line. He stuffs himself with snacks and milk in a Shirley Temple mug while watching TV. He is like a preadolescent interested in watching the sexual moves of the teens on TV but disgusted at the same time. He leaves the film during the kissing scenes. He is completely irresponsible and gives an example of how he cannot be trusted to keep a job. He throws temper tantrums and bullies his mother, resenting her keeping company with a man. Mancuso tells her she spoiled her son.
Toole gives a very realistic portrait of a New Orleans lower class neighborhood with its decaying Victorian houses on Constantinople Street. The Reillys are part of the Catholic community there, but Ignatius does not believe in the laxity of the modern Catholic church, since he has medieval models in mind. He wants a “good authoritarian Pope” (p. 61). It is pointed out he once taught a class at a university but failed. His higher education has not led to a career. Wherever he goes he gains a bad reputation as a troublemaker. The movie theater manager dreads seeing him come in night after night raising havoc. Instead of taking responsibility for his disgusting appearance and behavior, Ignatius blames Fortuna for spinning his wheel downward in a bad cycle. It is obvious he will never get anywhere with his attitude about the decay of civilization. Jones has his own negative commentary from the point of view of the black community, but his views on racism are based on experience. Ignatius has manufactured a point of view that cripples him from acting. He feels he is too intellectual to join his activist ex-girlfriend, Myrna, in political demonstrations to change things. His views are so personal and idiosyncratic as to be useless.