Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

A Confederacy of Sons and Lovers: Similarities between A Confederacy of Dunces and Sons and Lovers

Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

A Confederacy of Sons and Lovers: Similarities between A Confederacy of Dunces and Sons and Lovers

Article excerpt

Today, we find it unbelievable that Robert Gottlieb (of Simon and Schuster) terminated his lengthy correspondence with John Kennedy Toole, regarding the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces, by saying, "It isn't about anything." Andrei Codrescu, in his Introduction to the 20th Anniversary Edition of the novel, (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2000) observes that "Toole had set out deliberately to turn the stereotypes on their heads, which is, of course, precisely what he did." He further charges that "[t]he failure of American publishers to see this is unforgivable" (vii). After reading Toole's masterpiece of comic fiction, one is compelled to agree with Codrescu that Gottlieb and his colleagues were mistaken. Confederacy is about everything.

Two of the strong themes in the novel are the protagonist's inept social skills and his delayed sexual development. Regarding these themes, an interesting comparison may be drawn between Toole's novel and D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913). Since human beings ultimately identify themselves in relation to other human beings, the necessity for social interaction is a given. In one of his journal entries, Ignatius Reilly, sadly confesses, "I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one" (105). His friend, Myrna, defines interactive identity only in sexual terms, telling Ignatius, "My only desire was to aid you in finding your true self-expression and contentment through satisfying, natural orgasm" (153). Even with Myrna's help, Ignatius is unable to find his own sexual identity--that is not to say, his gender identity, but his sexual identity in relation to another person.

D. H. Lawrence's young protagonist, Paul Morel experiences a similar identity crisis. In Sons and Lovers, William Morel and his son, Paul, are both emasculated by Gertrude Morel. In an effort to discover his sexual identity, Paul has sex with his young girlfriend, Miriam, but no significant relationship follows. …

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