A Confederacy of Dunces — The joke’s on… you

Adithya Venkatesan
3 min readMay 1, 2023


John Kennedy Toole committed suicide at 32. He got depressed after multiple publishers rejected, ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’. His mother managed to find an eminent author who gave her a hearing. That singular event gave us a bewilderingly bewitching Ignatius Reilly — a character that deserves as much recognition as a Mr. Holmes, Atticus Finch or Mr. Gatbsy. Mr. Toole was posthumously awarded the 1981 Pulitzer prize for fiction. And what a deserved award it is.

It’s hard to describe books like, ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’. I suspect in a year or two, I would struggle to recall the ‘storyline’, if you could even call it one. What it is, is fine literature. It’s a book woven with rich language, and tugs at a reader’s intrigue to understand how Mr. Toole manages to keep a plot alive with his spectacular prose. To be clear, there is a storyline. This is not quite your typical meandering Murakami where words spill over a page without rationale, or a linear set of events. You follow a path Mr. Toole has laid out, just that it simply does not matter.

What does count is his language, his use of prose, his era of writers that we don’t produce anymore. His command over the language, his daring challenge to readers to love a misanthrope, an anti-hero who is repulsive, and yet, you want to prod on. That’s what makes this book such a delight.

Through his characters, Mr. Toole implores you to read more, but also, he’s being cunning about it — do you really want to know more about De Consolatione Philosophiae, from a deranged man who struggles with conventional society? He’s having his share of fun, probing the reader.

Mr. Toole must’ve thought:

‘I’m going to use a lunatic character to tell you about Boethius, the late Roman who had written Consolatione. I’m going to walk my reader through rota Fortunaea wheel of Fortune, a blind goddess who spins humans on a wheel, so luck comes in cycles.’

Mr. Toole would’ve been a fantastic man to converse with, one who trolls you without knowing you’re being trolled. Like the one moment one of his characters says, “Her body had always amazed her. She received it free of charge, yet she had never bought anything that had helped her as much as that body had.” Or this gem of a line, when a character looks at his tablets and calls it, “gems of nihilism”. Or maybe, this line — “Like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mynra was still around to offend.” What an inventive, fiendishly brilliant troll, Mr Toole would’ve made ;)

And there are enough gems in this book to be sure.

💡 “Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking.”

💡 “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”

💡 “I refuse to “look up.” Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”

Who is the dunce really? His brilliantly conjured character, or the reader assimilating this tour de force of a book? Good satire, like any art form, makes you think, debate, and has many interpretations. The sheer audacity of this book made me smile. It’s been a pleasure reading Mr. Toole’s work, and I’m terribly sad we’ll never get to know what wonders he would’ve made had he persisted.

Read A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s biting prose, ingenious dialogue, unlike anything you’ll read. After all, one could always contend, with the proliferation of social media, and a large mike with people who probably should never wield one, we’re at the peak of… well… ‘A confederacy of dunces’ 😉



Adithya Venkatesan

Brand Marketer. Twitter: @adadithya. Travel fanatic. Wildlife lover. Voracious reader. Cenosillicaphobic. Logophile. Past: @gojektech @reuters @ACJIndia