ces ConfederacyThe Relationship between Ignatius and Myrna in A Confederacy of Dunces
One of the most unique and strange relationships in modern literature exists between Ignatius Reilly and Myrna Minkoff, the two perceived dunces in John Kennedy Tooles A Confederacy of Dunces. The correspondence between them runs throughout the novel. In the beginning, Ignatius feels a certain air of superiority over her, yet she feels that he has lost touch with reality, and her suggestion begin to control his actions, as he tries to win at her own game. She genuinely cares for him and writes her opinion of how to transform his life. In three separate attempts to quiet her unrelenting criticism and suggestions, he heeds her advice, each time failing miserably and causing greater adversity for himself. Yet, at the end of the novel, in a comedic irony, she saves him from mental and physical captivity.
At the beginning of the relationship between the reader and the association between Ignatius and Myrna, Ignatius writes an egotistical letter to explain his adventures working at and grand plans for Levy Pants. Ignatius explains: “I have several excellent ideas already, and I know that I, for one, will eventually make Mr. Levy decide to put his heart and soul in the firm” (pg. 90). In Ignatius’s own fantasy world, he honestly supposes that his changes will cause a revolutionary transformation of Levy Pants. He believes that his innovative contrivances can transform the forgotten Levy Pants into a Fortune 500 company, and he writes to Myrna in an attempt to clarify and reinforce his deranged world view. Reality does not allow for Ignatius’s idealized rebirth of the factory, but Ignatius fails to see the actuality of the situation, and instead writes about his proposed accomplishments at Levy Pants to Myrna.
Myrna?s response to Ignatius’s letter expresses a large degree of anxiety for Ignatius’s well-being. In reply to Igantius’s claims, she writes: “I do not believe a word of what I read. But I am frightened — for you” (pg. 94).. Mryna continues the letter by declaring her commitment to helping society: “my every waking hour is spent in helping some dedicated friends raise money for a bold and shattering movie about interracial marriage” (pg. 95). Myrna feels her movie’s message about prejudice and hate may create enough tension and discussion to significantly change people’s points of view.
Also in the letter, she proposes a cure to Ignatius’s loss of mental stability: “you must commit yourself to the crucial problems of the times” (pg. 94). Myrna’s words provoke Ignatius into following in her own revolutionary footsteps later in the novel. Her correspondence portrays her opinion: Ignatius is a brilliant man losing touch with the world, which only she may be able to prevent. Her letter declares Ignatius insane, later she makes suggestions to cure Ignatius’s breakaway from reality.
Ignatius burns Myrnas’s letter, declaring: “I’ll show this offensive trollop” (pg. 96). Myrna’s criticism agitates Ignatius, proving her opinion of him actually matters to him; his general apathy towards people’s opinions does not apply to Myrna. He values her opinion, whether or not he agrees with it. After spending more time at the factory, Ignatius decides to lead a social revolution by the workers against the management, similar to Myrna’s aspirations of social revolt. After brainstorming the idea he, “contemplated a reply to Myrna, a slashing, vicious attack upon her being and worldview. It would be better to wait until he had visited the factory and seen what possibilities for social action there had been there” (pg. 120). He desires an intellectual duel and contest of social revolution between them to prove his superiority. In his own writings, Ignatius composes that Myrna, “must be dealt with at her own level, and thus I thought of her as I surveyed the sub-standard conditions of the factory” (pg. 149). Myrna’s letter about leading her own social revolt fuels Ignatius’s passion to prove his supremacy, by winning at her own game.
While filming the fledglings of a protest, Ignatius smugly comments to himself: “Envy would gnaw at Myrna’s musky vitals” (pg. 163). Such a vile comment accentuates his potent feelings about her. His actions at the factory stem from the deep-seeded desire to undeniably win at Myrna’s own game of cultural protest. As Ignatius’s plan unfolds, it literally crumples before him: “the procession continued to move silently and determinedly farther down the stairs into the factory” (pg. 169). Ignatius’s boss wastes no time in terminating his job at Levy Pants, and stubborn pride keeps Ignatius from writing Myrna back about his defeat.
Myrna’s next letter appears after Ignatius’s failure to return her letter. Again she writes to criticize Ignatius’s personal life and expand upon her triumphs as a social libertarian. She complains that his social comatose stems from a failure to have a sexual encounter: “A beautiful and meaningful love affair would transform you, Ignatius, I know it would” (pg. 213). Then she continues by once again attempting to draw Ignatius into the world of revolutionary actions. This time, she inquires about his political apathy: “Have you abandoned your project to form a political party or nominate a candidate for president by divine right? ….. Please write to me about this matter” (pg. 213). Myrna specifically attacks Ignatius?s sex-life and political activity. Both of these criticisms cause Ignatius to take action, both to his own folly.
In Ignatius?s reply, he writes: “The comments upon my personal life were uncalled for and reveled a shocking lack of taste and decency” (pg. 215). Such a response suggest he feels shielded from her scathing comments. However, his actions prove a different story. In a conversation with a homosexual, Ignatius postulates that if the armies of the world were encompassed entirely of gays: “It could mean the end of war forever. This could be the key to lasting peace” (pg. 295). Ignatius follows up on the idea by asking: “Have you people considered forming a political party and running a candidate?” (pg. 297). This quote demonstrates Ignatius’s attempts to heed the advice of Myrna’s letters. Having failed so horribly at his last attempts to beat her at her own game, he becomes personally involved in a political situation that he would have previously abhorred. The censure Myrna delivers in her letters causes Ignatius to take an otherwise unorthodox action for himself.
Ignatius continues his spirited enterprise by generating a meeting to establish his new political party, which fails miserably. At the meeting, Ignatius finds himself unable to attract the attention of the people, and the assembly quickly dismisses Ignatius: “You have proved to be the most awful thing that has ever been in my house” (pg. 381). After several attempts to call them to order, three lesbians forcibly remove him: “They pushed him through the gate and onto the sidewalk” (pg. 382). Ignatius’s grandiose plans to create the framework for world peace die in a matter of minutes. Myrna’s call to action serves as the instigator to his plans, and his idealistic venture flounders much like his plans to bring a social revolution at Levy Pants.
Ignatius’s last and most distinguishing failure ends on infamous Bourbon Street. Through a strange series of events, Ignatius gains a picture of a beautiful woman resting on a book of Boethius. He immediately fantasizes about meeting this exploited woman, and, ?pondered an affair. How Myrna would gnaw at her espresso cup rim in envy.” (pg. 343). Ignatius’s general disenchantment with society and people does not hinder his search for this woman he feels deserves a physical relationship with him. Once again, Myrna’s suggestions seem reflected in Ignatius?s actions. He contemplates an affair almost exactly like the one Myrna describes for him in her letter.
When Ignatius locates his fanciful woman, he finds himself in the tawdry Night of Joy strip club. As Ignatius’s fantasy woman emerges, he calls: ” ‘Oh my God!’ Ignatius bellowed, unable to remain silent any longer. ‘Is this cretin Harlett O’Hara?'” (pg. 388). In a humorous note in the novel, Ignatius’s earring attracts the pet cockatoo from the show, and Ignatius flees out to the street only to faint in the headlights of an oncoming bus. Upon waking, Ignatius finds his picture on the cover of the paper: “under the headline that said, WILD INCIDENT ON BOURBON STREET” (pg. 395). Now Ignatius appears as a person with highly questionable morals on the cover of the local newspaper. This publicity demolishes any reputation he might have held onto through the years. Without question, Ignatius’s quest for the beautiful woman in the picture proves a harrowing and painful expedition. Myrna’s appeal for Ignatius to have a torrid affair prompts Ignatius to seek this woman, and his actions leave him in a unpleasant situation. Indeed, Ignatius himself admits Myrna’s role in the situation: “Actually, it’s all the fault of that dreadful girl, Myrna” (pg. 398). In a final severance of Myrna’s influence on him, Ignatius explains the influence she has had on his recent actions.
At the very end of the novel, Ignatius finds that: “everything was going wrong” (pg. 400). In an equally unpalatable situation, Ignatius realizes his mother requests the local psychiatric institution to apprehend him: “All signs pointed to Charity Hospital” (pg. 451). Without warning Myrna appears on the doorstep, and: “Ignatius was about to burst through the shutters, splintering slats and latches, and wrap that one hemp-like pigtail around her throat until she turned blue” (pg. 452) This quote displays Ignatius’s true anger and frustration with Myrna. He realizes the turmoil and chaos she bestowed upon his tranquil life with her misinformed assertions about the way to revitalize his dismal situation. However: “reason won. he was not looking at Myrna; he was looking at an escape route” (pg. 452). Myrna’s unexpected arrival allows Ignatius to flee the clutches of Charity Hospital. He piles into her car, and while they proceed away from the house: “the ambulance passed, Ignatius hunched over and saw ‘Charity Hospital’ printed on the door” (pg. 461). His narrow escape is obtained, only after Myrna physically enters his life. She saves his mind and body from imminent institutionalization.
Relationships sometimes have profound effects on the people in them. At the beginning of the novel, Ignatius feels a great deal of superiority over Myrna. However, as the relationship between them develops through the novel, it causes a tremendous amount of hardship in his life, due to Myrna’s critical letters to Ignatius, and his perseverance to take her advice. Like a naughty boy unable to learn his lesson and the consequence of his actions, Ignatius continues his pursuit to fulfill Myrna’s suggestions on three separate occasions, each ending in horrible failure. Yet, in a ironic twist, Myrna becomes Ignatius’s only escape from a life troubled by taking Myrna’s advice. Her letters affect Ignatius in a manner that only her car and body can remedy.
ces ConfederacyThe Relationship between Ignatius and Myrna in A Confederacy of Dunces