Style and Technique
In “The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish,” as in some of Mahfouz’s well-known novels, a slice of Cairo life is packaged in a picaresque style—a young boy discovers life as he proceeds through places, experiences, and human contacts. The story is strongly existentialist, possibly suggesting the influence of the likes of Franz Kafka or Albert Camus on the Egyptian author. At its more symbolic level, the story is about the young boy subconsciously attempting to define the sense of existence in an essentially meaningless, even absurd, universe.
The few touches that Mahfouz uses to add local color introduce the reader to another culture, a simpler way of life in which people go about with dishes fetching beans. The references that the author uses will be highly familiar to his readers because they are evident in all large-city neighborhoods. Accordingly, although the major protagonist is concerned with such immediate and seemingly down-to-earth issues as satisfying his mother, keeping out of harm’s way, and reliving the feelings that had welled up in him after viewing the show about romantic gallantry and later encountering the young girl, a tension is created in the reader’s mind about the human condition at a deeper level of analysis.
Unlike Mahfouz’s earlier stories, this one contains more dialogue, interspersed with occasional narrative, in a unilinear form. This new trend has led to some of Mahfouz’s other stories being converted into one-act plays.