From 1961-1963 John Kennedy Toole was stationed at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, on the outskirts of San Juan. An honored and respected leader of Company A, he and his men taught English to Puerto Rican draftees, many of whom were sent to the front lines in the early days of the Vietnam War.
It was here that Toole not only wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, but also came to an artistic revelation, one that had been building in New Orleans for years. As I explain in the final pages of Butterfly, “In his small room in Puerto Rico in 1963 he climbed to the top of the world and left behind the victorious and infectious laughter that overcomes mortality.”
I have always felt that the great lesson of his novel is that no matter how much we fight each other, tearing at our own fabric, we are all inextricably woven together. Sometimes our rejection of this truth produces absurd hilarity, sometimes wrenching pain. But a recognition of this truth results in moments of tenderness. I always believed this is what Ignatius finally realized when he reaches from the back of the car to touch Myrna’s hair as she drives him out of the city, rescuing him from the fate of the asylum.
If you have reaped as much joy out of Toole’s novel as I have, I encourage you in the coming months and years to find a way to help the island and its people. Because without Puerto Rico, we would not have ‘A Confederacy of Dunces.’ There is much to learn, much to rebuild, and much healing that must take place.
I have decided to give to Unidos. (You have to designate ‘Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief’ if you want the donation to go directly to Puerto Rico). That said, there are many organizations working hard to provide immediate aid and meet long-term needs in the years to come. I encourage you to find a way to show support and offer a gesture of kindness to the people of Puerto Rico.