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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Confederacy of Dunces Shows Autobiographical Influence

Our discussion of A Confederacy of Dunces was full of information and usual! Sandra had nominated this book, and she somehow made it to our discussion, but she had very recently had surgery and was still in pain and on codeine. She was a great sport about it all and because of the codeine, she enjoyed the pleasure of eating some of those great BN treats without the usual guilt. It was great to have Sandra there to discuss this book that she loved from a long time ago. Jennifer ran the discussion in the absence of those of Sandra's wits that were temporarily dulled. I hope, Sandra, that you are feeling much better every day!
I shall mention 3 points that I found particularly interesting about our discussion of A Confederacy of Dunces.
1) As an introduction to the discussion, Jennifer had done some research on the author, which turned out to explain the very essence of the book and to color much of the discussion. The information showed that much of the book was autobiographical! The author was plagued by an overbearing mother, had sexual identity problems, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and committed suicide at an early age, soon after writing the book and immediately after a fight with his mother. Many of his life's endeavors involved getting away from his mother as much as possible. After destroying his suicide note so that the press never got it, his mother later published the book.
2) I am tempted to say that number 1 serves also as #2 and #3! The idea of this book being autobiographical says a lot! But there was more to the book, so we didn't dismiss it as the ramblings of a crazy man. We found the book to be brilliantly written in some parts, and we agreed that the author's plan for the book, and the melding of the various characters and subplots was very cogent and well thought out.
2.5) Carla came up with the word "tragicomedy" for this book, and there was general agreement.
3) Group opinions were polarized. Some loved the book, mostly those who had read it near the time it was published (1980, but the author died in 1969, so the book was written quite a long time ago). Others hated the book and/or didn't think it was at all deserving of the Pulitzer prize it received. We were all 27 years younger in 1980 than we are now, and times have changed a lot since 1968 or 1969 when the book was that may have a lot to do with one's opinion of the book. A lot of the issues in it were major fresh issues at the time: slavery and racism, worker's rights, homophobia, sexual freedom. These issues have changed in character...hmm...I'll go out on a limb here and say except racism. (Well, maybe it has changed a little. I recently watched a youtube copy of an episode of a Canadian comedy called "Little Mosque on the Prairie" - great little show, going into it's second season.) So some of us found the book immature and/or irrelevant reading it in 2007/8. There was discussion about this.
Great book for discussion!

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