A Confederacy of Dunces: Chapter 3
Summary of Chapter Three
Ignatius staggers home and collapses at his mother’s feet after looking for a job. He says his valve closed on the streetcar. He did not get the job he applied for. Ignatius is very nervous, and his pyloric valve closes under stress so that he gets bloated with gas. His mother tells him he has to keep looking. He is depressed, saying, “I am an anachronism. People realize this and resent it” (p. 70). She finds a clerical job in the paper at Levy Pants, and makes him go there to apply.
Mr. Gonzalez is the manager of Levy Pants. Mr. Levy, the owner, dislikes his business and being there, so he leaves everything to Gonzalez to do while he goes on pleasure trips. Gonzalez is the only one who cares about the place or is a steady worker there. Others come and go, except for the ancient Miss Trixie, a senile worker who has been with the company for generations. Miss Trixie cannot remember anything and wants to retire but is not allowed to because Mrs. Levy thinks she needs employment and views Miss Trixie as a personal charity project. Gonzalez is desperate for office help, and so when Ignatius arrives, Gonzalez does everything he can to ignore his oddities. He hires him without an interview. He introduces Ignatius to Miss Trixie who is always asking for her Easter ham from the company.
Jones is sweeping the floor of the Night of Joy bar while Lana Lee nags him to work harder. She threatens him that she could give his job to someone else. Jones threatens back that he will tell the police the bar is a house of prostitution. He says: “Times changing. You cain scare color peoples no more” (p. 85). He says he will form a demonstration in front of her bar and get on TV. A young boy named George comes in the bar and gives Lana Lee some money for something he says he sells to orphans.
Ignatius begins a working man’s diary to document his experience at Levy Pants for his historical notes. He reports: “I have met the system face to face” (p. 88). Ignatius’s report gives us a picture of the company as failing miserably through incompetence, especially because Gonzalez permits him “to have my will among the files” (p.89). Ignatius hates the sound of the stiletto heels of the stenographer, Gloria, and so he convinces Gonzalez to fire her. He begins to reorganize the office and to manipulate Gonzalez into doing whatever he wants. He decides that though he is in a bad cycle, Fortuna has given him a small good cycle within the larger bad one.
Mrs. Reilly opens a few cans for Ignatius’s dinner and says she is going bowling with Mancuso and his aunt. She gives him a letter from Myrna Minkoff in New York. Myrna’s letters always sound like letters to the editor and begin “Sirs.” She constantly criticizes Ignatius and psychoanalyzes his problems calling him a “classic paranoid” (p. 94). She accuses him of being opposed to sex, while she is sexually liberated. She lectures him that he must “commit yourself to the crucial problems of the times” (p. 94). She herself is involved in making a film about interracial marriage and wants him to play the villain.
Commentary on Chapter Three
Toole jumps from scene to scene, cutting from one set of characters to another. The comedy picks up with such Dickensian portraits as Miss Trixie whose dementia makes it impossible to find anything in the office. Ignatius describes Gonzalez as so tolerant he is “appealingly democratic in his retarded way” (p. 88). Toole hits every race and segment of society in his satire. Mr. Levy, the capitalist, is bored; Lana Lee is called “Scarla O’Horror” by Jones who is on to her criminal activities utilizing the so-called orphan boy George. Myrna is a brilliant send-up of the intellectual activist new woman of the sixties, sexually liberated and able to see through Ignatius’s misogyny. She wants to set him free with a sexual experience. Mrs. Reilly, ever hoping to marry off her son, asks him if there are any cute girls working at Levy’s. Ignatius took care to get the sexy Gloria fired, but he tells his mother about Trixie to satisfy her. The scenes move quickly and remind one of TV sitcoms. Toole is able to exploit the new caricatures of the sixties: the capitalist, the black exploited worker, the various ethnic groups, the feminist activist, the working class mother in the old neighborhood, the pseudo-educated Mrs. Levy with her social causes, the local cop, and later, the gay community. While the issues of the sixties come up about racial and worker rights, women’s and gay liberation, the forward liberal examination of themes is negated by Ignatius’s unlikely conservative right-wing stance stemming from medieval Christian theology. At the same time, Ignatius is the carnivalesque hero who breaks all the rules and becomes a scapegoat of the system. Toole’s dialogue is hilarious and captures dialect perfectly to produce a choir of dunces.