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 finally triumphs.
The denizens of the Night of Joy bar are equally persistent, but the efforts of its proprietress, Lana Lee, are defeated by the very dishonesty and inhumanity on which she relies in her quest for success. An object of continual satire, she complains that “business stinks,” but she is rude to customers and her bar is dark, dirty, and bad smelling. She will not pay her porter, Burma Jones, enough to motivate him to clean it really properly. As the B-girl Darlene complains,I only work on commission for how much I get people to drink. You think that’s easy? Try to get some guy to buy more than one of the kinda drinks they serve here. All water. They gotta spend ten, fifteen dollars to get any effect at all.
Darlene, the novel’s purest stereotype—the dumb...
(The entire section is 925 words.)