Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Naguib Mahfouz wrote “The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish” in the fall of 1967, when he and most other Egyptians felt traumatized by Israel’s quick defeat of his country in the Six-Day War. In it and the other stories that appeared in The Time and the Place and Other Stories (1991), he seems to be questioning the meaning of events and life in general. Unlike Mahfouz’s earlier works set in ancient Egypt or his novels depicting the Egyptian social milieu, his later writings, like this story, have realistic, symbolic, and existential themes.

The underlying theme of “The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish” is that the world and the events in it cannot always be understood from a rational viewpoint, that pure reason is not a sufficient guide to explain everything that happens in this highly unpredictable world in which the anxiety of the human condition is a constant. However, despite all the frustrations and anxieties that civilization has created and fostered, inexplicably and even unjustifiably, there remains a glimmer of hope in the happiness that people seize for themselves where they can. For the individual’s initial reaction to these frustrations and anxieties is to look for some kind of consolation or release.

Thus, when the boy fails to complete the simple errand of bringing home a few pennies’ worth of beans, he is either threatened with or actually experiences physical retribution from his mother, the conjurer, and...

(The entire section is 516 words.)