The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bobbo Druff, the narrator and main character of the story, is truly the only subject of this complex novel that has so many other threads and aspects. He represents the modern American, and his life embodies, for Elkin at least, life in America in the 1990’s. He is materialistic and corrupt; he is neurotic, psychotic, and schizophrenic (and, importantly, justly so); he is intellectual, witty, and smart; he is hopelessly middle-class; he finds relief in life by incessantly getting high on coca leaves and taking at least four different prescription medicines; he is both humor and pathos—a strangely correct mixture.

The MacGuffin is never seriously defined in the novel, yet Druff himself describes him several times in different ways. The MacGuffin is the alter ego, the devil within, the id and the ego, the conscience gone over to the other side. He is a kind of generally harmless “Sam” telling “Son of Sam” what to do. Recognizably, though, The MacGuffin is not localized to Druff’s character but is present in everyone. The MacGuffin and Druff have conversations, but The MacGuffin never directly tells Druff what to do.

Rose Helen Druff is Bobbo’s wife of thirty-six years. Her most significant role in the novel is during the flashback to her courtship and affair with Druff when they were college students in the 1950’s. Thus we see two Rose Helens: the gifted young college student, extremely intelligent but slightly deformed by a childhood disease, and the housewife she has...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Robert Druff

Robert Druff, also called Bob and Bobbo, the city commissioner of streets. At the age of fifty-eight, wearing his ill-fitting clothes and suffering from heart disease, a collapsed lung, and poor circulation, Druff finds himself “on the downhill side of destiny.” He swallows Valium to calm himself and chews coca leaves to create a sense of “restored obsession,” the antidote to what he otherwise experiences as a vaguely defined loss of force (a strange malady given that Druff never had much force to lose). Alternately overbearing and self-deprecating, ridiculing others and feeling ridiculous, he recognizes his own inconsequence. He is understandably disappointed by his “bozo itinerary” and “pointless odyssey”—his cruising for potholes and reviewing of streets he superintends yet barely knows. Frequently invoking the Marlon Brando line from On the Waterfront, “I could have been a contender,” but realizing that it rings rather hollow, he constructs an increasingly involved and fantastic plot that is at once playful and paranoid. Druff has the starring role as detective/victim.

Rose Helen Druff

Rose Helen Druff, his wife of thirty-six years. They met while at college; the fact that her hip problem made her “a relatively presentable cripple” did little to assuage “her savage resentment,” which led to a suicide attempt that in turn led Druff to propose marriage. She later...

(The entire section is 597 words.)