Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Ignatius’s “worldview,” which he is convinced is very original, embraces such standard ideas of medievalism as Boethius’s wheel of Fortune, which in Ignatius’s mind excuses laziness (all failures are already determined). It also includes most of the canards of modernism. His highly ahistorical vision of the Middle Ages as “a period in which the western world had enjoyed order, tranquility, unity, and oneness with its True God and Trinity” is a sort of bastardization of the vision of the Middle Ages developed by John Ruskin, Henry Adams, and T. S. Elliot. He echoes with comic hyperbole the standard modernist sentiment that contemporary technological society (symbolized in the mind of Ignatius by the Scenicruiser ride he took to Baton Rouge to interview for a teaching job) is “the vortex of the whirlpool of despair,” and he glibly identifies himself with Marcel Proust’s imaginative seclusion and with Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when, during that one departure from New Orleans to search for a teaching position, “he was faced with the ultimate horror”—work. The novel’s central theme is the necessity of individual effort, and Ignatius exploits references to despair in modern literature as excuses to reject industrial society because that society demands what Ignatius calls “the perversion of having to GO TO WORK.” He gives his fundamental laziness away when, in explaining his preference for New Orleans, he...
(The entire section is 380 words.)
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Although Ignatius finds little to praise and likes few people, although he is a disgusting creature who lives in squalor with his demented mother, although there are few if any positive statements within the book, the final effect is one of giddy celebration. Most of the absurd, silly characters enjoy themselves, including Ignatius, who goes out daily in search of new atrocities and relishes finding them. The world portrayed by this book is not a pretty one, but it is an irresistibly entertaining one. The main character's enjoyment of his own obscene lifestyle and inflated vocabulary, and the author's obvious love of his creations, combine to form an unexpectedly cheerful impression.
(The entire section is 111 words.)