Work Ethic in Robert Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces"

The Elusive American Dream

Set in the city of New Orleans in the early 1960’s, Robert Kennedy Toole’s novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” masterfully highlights social change and racial tension that surrounded the decade that echoed with the voice of Martin Luther King declaring that he had “a dream”.   While the era itself was wrought with political upheaval, Toole’s novel focuses more on the hypocrisy of a work force that believed in the elusive ‘American Dream’, yet sought out shortcuts to realize the vision. By analyzing the concept of work ethic as presented in the novel, this paper will attempt to understand what the American Dream ultimately meant to the various characters and how the black work force in the novel envisioned that dream in the face of crippling racial tension.
Ignatius J. Reilly is the protagonist of the novel who considers himself to be above the common folk and their “lack of theology and geometry”. He sees himself as historian and a philosopher, unappreciated by his peers because he was born into the wrong century. While he is not lacking in intelligence, his understanding of the world he lives in makes him a very disagreeable man. He is unable to hold down a job and prefers to sit at home all day, having his mother take care of him while he writes down his observances of Big Chief tablets that litter his room. However, when his mother rakes up a huge debt after a car accident, Ignatius is forced to leave the comfort of his bed and takes up a position in the offices of Levy Pants.
Ignatius’ contempt for his fellow human beings is instantly clear. He looks down upon his race and makes sure they know it but voicing his colorful comments loudly and frequently. Ignatius has no concept of work ethic or employment. He views employment and a form of modern slavery and has a history of bad experiences with his past forays into employment. A long time ago, Ignatius briefly worked as a professor until he was fired. As a professor, Ignatius was...