The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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 mother finally recognizes that Reilly is coldhearted, selfish, and beyond emotional redemption and therefore attempts to commit him to a mental ward, does Reilly show a hint of warmth, as Myrna Minkoff spirits him away.

Irene Reilly

Irene Reilly, the widowed mother of the protagonist. She is lonely and unwilling to see her son as a failure, because he has a master’s...

(The entire section is 762 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Ignatius is the only fully realized character in the novel, and he is one of the great literary creations of a generation, vividly and...

(The entire section is 170 words.)