John Kennedy Toole Monroe K. Spears - Essay

Monroe K. Spears

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Noting that [A Confederacy of Dunces] was resurrected long after the author's death and published by a university press, the reader may well approach it with a certain wariness. It does not look promising…. Fortunately, this is not the case; the book needs no concessions. It is consistently entertaining and irresistibly funny, a comic epic in the great tradition of Cervantes and Fielding with a suspenseful and elaborate plot skillfully managed and the little world of New Orleans encompassing the whole modern world. (p. 7)

One of the finest things about the book is the vividness with which the speech of each character is rendered so as to be at once individual and exactly representative of his class, race, and locality—and, most important of all, both expressive of his nature and funny….

Why this book should have been rejected by publishers fifteen years ago is a mystery. Perhaps they were offended by its lack of any positive satiric norm, by its impartial ridicule of both sides of most political, social, and religious issues. But its mode is quite different from the stark irony of Swift or Flannery O'Connor, the grim satire of Nathanael West, the existentialist quest of Walker Percy. It is less subtle and profound, often closer to farce than to their kind of religiously based comedy. Naturally, it is uneven; some jokes are repeated too often and some misfire…. But [A Confederacy of Dunces] is fully mature, individual, and completely finished, and it embodies a unique and powerful comic vision. (p. 30)

Monroe K. Spears, "A New Orleans Comic Epic," in The Lone Star Book Review (copyright © 1980 Lone Star Media Corp.), Vol. II, No. 1, June-July, 1980, pp. 7, 30.