It is a story of a troubled boy who comes to understand that he must control his own destiny. ‘Doing the right thing’ according to society and, particularly, according to the church, does not sit easily with his innocent view of the world. He barely has enough worldly knowledge to kiss Jo Lynn and know why Aunt Mae is quiet about her relationship with Clyde. There is a major theme of sacrifice running through it; a constant ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in’ in order to wring the minimum from a small town life. When David leaves, contrasting his eventual train journey with his childhood collection of locomotives in order to keep some, however tenuous, link with a past he must abandon, we travel with him.
There is no wonder that the talent, finally realised in A Confederacy of Dunces, was later fought over. The tragedy is that John Kennedy Toole felt that he was so-little appreciated that he did not journey on, and took his own life in 1969.