Oct 17, 11
Read from October 05 to 17, 2011
Ignatius J. Reilly is certainly one of literature’s unforgettable characters, and so are many of the supporting cast of this farcical morality play, written by a writer who committed suicide in his 32nd year, winning the Pulitzer posthumously.
Ignatius, a self-proclaimed genius, is lazy, opinionated, hypochondriacal, idealistic, flatulent and sexually scared, content to relieve himself with solo performances in his room. He is unemployed (and unemployable), lives in New Orleans with his harried and broke mother, and has an ambivalent relationship with his radical but sexually frustrated girlfriend, Myrna, who has run away to New York to start her own political movement.
On his mother’s threat of declaring bankruptcy, Ignatius gets a job at Levy Pants, a derelict garments factory that exploits its employees. Ignatius tries to organize the workers to demand for better working conditions in an event that turns into a nightmare and gets fired. He ends up pushing a hot dog cart around the French Quarter, eating much of the product himself. He is the quintessential messiah for the downtrodden, eager to pick up any cause that will ease their burden. In these days of Occupy Wall Street, his story takes on special significance and reminds us that nothing much has changed in labour relations. Surrounding him in his adventures is a motley cast, the confederacy of dunces: a hapless policeman looking for his first arrest, Mrs. Reilly’s new boyfriend who sees a communist around every corner, and the denizens of the Night of Joy, a derelict bar, whose proprietor Lana Lee is selling more than booze. Lana also has a love-hate relationship with her cleaner, Jones, who works for her for peanuts, fearing being arrested as a vagrant if he is out of work. There are also the Levy’s, the owners of Levy Pants, locked in their own love-hate relationship, and the ancient Miss Trixie, who is not allowed to retire from Levy Pants for Mrs. Levy believes that will hasten the old lady’s physical and mental demise.
Ignatius gets into some of the most bizarre situations and the book skirts caricature and contrivance in places – my only criticism. The author brings out the underbelly of New Orleans vividly and humorously, and the accents and prejudices are well displayed. Like a play, the scenes weave together fluidly with secondary characters taking centre stage the moment lead players make their exit.Certainly, a page-turner if you can stomach a gross, unhygienic and sometimes unsympathetic hero, who has the whole world conspiring against him, including his mother.
There is an ending reminiscent of the movie “The Graduate.” We are left wondering if Ignatius, now re-united with Myrna, and free of the confederacy, will step out of his comfort zone finally and have that one explosive orgasm with her that will restore him to normalcy and retire him from the pages of literature as one heck of an unforgettable guy! We shall never know, for John Kennedy Toole, like Ignatius, made a hurried and unexpected departure from the literary stage, much to our loss.