Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Stanley Elkin’s main purpose is to reveal the hopeless and meaningless entanglements of life in the United States in the 1990’s—for the thinking and thoughtless alike. There is no escape from problems, no solution to them, only an awareness of facts that add up to craziness (a matter blended with humor and bitterness) in a world in which borderline insanity is necessary for survival. Bobbo Druff is not, however, insane; he is victimized by society and politics and legalities—but yet entirely by self. Survival requires some control of the system in which one lives. For Druff and other characters, that system is corrupt, somehow defunct yet going on anyway.

Elkin reveals these themes through numerous metaphors. Most important of these is Druff’s job as commissioner of streets: Life is a maze full of potholes, and nothing can be done about it. The maze will always be there, for all must travel the streets of life, which are replete with curves, stop signs, stoplights (which may or may not work), detours, traffic jams, and, most significant, inescapable potholes.

In coping with these streets of life, Druff creates, perhaps discovers, The MacGuffin—a metaphor for the lies that characters must tell themselves in order to excuse and justify their own behavior and to make some sense of the world around them. The MacGuffin, who exists only in Druff’s mind, is nevertheless no less of a character.

Elkin’s main point is not...

(The entire section is 545 words.)