The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Ignatius, the undefeated, stands at the center of a matrix of comic failures. These are vivid, if flat, characters who escape being mere stereotypes because of Toole’s genius for telling gesture and individualized dialect. Each character has learned about defeat in his own way, yet few have submitted to it. They are almost pathetic, but not quite. Mr. Clyde, the much put-upon owner of the understaffed Paradise Vendors (and Ignatius’s future employer in the hot dog business), is bitterly aware that “nobody respects a hot dog vendor,” and he describes his own product containing “rubber, cereal, tripe. Who knows? I wouldn’t touch one of them myself.” Yet when Ignatius tries to escape without paying, after wolfing down several Paradise franks, Mr. Clyde seizes a serving fork and, pressing it against Ignatius’s throat, induces him, in lieu of payment, to come to work selling weenies. Almost all of Toole’s characters will seize even a mediocre opportunity if it presents itself.
When Angelo Mancuso botches his first attempt as an investigator (instead of arresting Ignatius he is egged on by accusations of being a Communist to arrest the respectable Mr. Robichaux), his disgusted sergeant sends him to search for “suspicious characters” in ludicrous costumes (for example, a T-shirt, bermuda shorts, and long red beard) and forces him to endanger health and sanity by spending whole days on stakeout in public rest rooms, but Mancuso persists and...
(The entire section is 925 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Ignatius J. Reilly
Ignatius J. Reilly (ihg-NAY-shuhs), a blowsy, flatulent, thirty-year-old, obese, self-styled “philosopher.” He always wears a green hunting cap. He is hobbled by phobias and has a dyspeptic pyloric valve that closes at any provocation. He is obsessed with his bodily functions, though he is asexual, and is disdainful of the “corrupt twentieth century.” Reilly languishes at home, criticizing his widowed mother and her friends, refusing to find work, watching television (especially the shows he considers “offenses against taste and decency”), and, on his Big Red tablets, writing a journal of his “travels” and his medieval world vision. Eventually he is forced to work, first in the office at Levy Pants, which he almost ruins by discarding the company files and organizing the black workers in what he calls a “Crusade for Moorish Dignity.” He then finds a job with Paradise Vendors selling “weenies” from a pushcart, all the while eating more hotdogs than he sells. He becomes the catalyst for all the chaotic action in the novel and is the intersection point for the characters in the several subplots. His picaresque tour of New Orleans reveals Reilly’s complete self-indulgence, his philosophical inconsistencies as he sates himself on the very things he abhors in food and entertainment, and his negative, unfeeling attitude toward all around him. Only at the end of the novel, when his...
(The entire section is 762 words.)
Ignatius is the only fully realized character in the novel, and he is one of the great literary creations of a generation, vividly and enduringly alive and various in the tradition of Shakespeare's Falstaff (probably an inspiration) or Chaucer's Wife of Bath — comic characters whose vices and ugliness become part of their charm. The many dunces, simpletons, numbskulls, and fools around Ignatius are totally one- dimensional "attitudes," at times a little too repetitious, but each representing a static comic trait. These characters include Lana Lee, who runs a bar and leads a pornography ring; Darlene, an exotic dancer in Lana's bar; Gus Levy, who owns a pants factory where Ignatius tries to organize the workers; Miss Trixie, an ancient, senile, incompetent employee of Levy's; Burma Jones, a talkative black custodian; Freda, Liz, and Betty, militant lesbians, who take exception to Ignatius and attack him; their gay acquaintance, Dorian, who introduces Ignatius to a sexual underworld; the liberal and lubricous Myra; a bumbling policeman, Mancuso; and, most prominently, Ignatius' babbling mother.
(The entire section is 170 words.)