Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The MacGuffin succeeds in making significant and correct statements about modern politics. The global situation is so involved that even such traditional enemies as the Arabs and Jews cannot disentangle themselves from the complexity of the various problems. They depend upon one another to have someone to hate, to have an enemy; just as certainly and more important, however, they depend upon one another to fund and sustain their own problems and hatreds.

Local politics, as exemplified by Druff, the mayor, other commissioners, and even the two chauffeurs, parallels the mess and havoc of larger problems. No one can be trusted in a world where friends serve the causes of enemies and, conversely, enemies serve the causes of friends—all knowingly, but never openly.

It is internal politics with which Elkin is doubtless most concerned. This is represented in Druff’s family life with both his wife and son, and with his relationship with himself and The MacGuffin. The context of family politics finally makes it impossible for Druff to make sense out of the entanglements around him, even when he has full knowledge of all the facts. In The MacGuffin, Elkin’s goal is to make a statement not merely about problems in the Middle East (he is actually little concerned about relations between Jews and Arabs) but rather about problems in self-definition facing all readers.