“Mumbo Jumbo” Afro-American Novel by Ishmael Reed Essay

March 17, 2022 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jan 22nd, 2021

The introduction: the fundamentals of the novel

While describing the masterpiece written by Ishmael Reed, I would like to say a few words about the author. First of all, there is a need to point out that Reed is recognized as one of the most influential African American letters. Generally, Reed is not only a famous writer, but he is also a well-known poet and essayist. Most of the readers know the influential figure as a satirical novelist and editor.

Most of the works written by famous African-American figures, disclose social conditions, including those ones Black Americans experience.

Generally, I would like to draw the readers’ attention to such Reed’s works as Flight to Canada and Mumbo Jumbo. Thus, the first work discovers authorial control. The novel “is set in an imaginatively redrawn Civil War South, and it describes the relationship between Arthur Swille, a fabulously wealthy Virginia planter who practices necrophilia, and an assortment of sociologically stereotyped slaves” (Brucker par. 25).

The second work, Mumbo Jumbo, is mostly associated with the Harlem Renaissance’s failure. The most interesting point I would like to highlight is related to the title of the work. Thus, one is to keep in mind that the title Mumbo Jumbo reflects the misunderstood language of Afro-Americans. In other words, the story represents a cultural alternative. I suppose that the work combines the elements of detective fiction and some documentary features. Paravisini is of the opinion that the author’s satiric intentions are reflected in Mumbo Jumbo “where he ‘parodies a narrative form (the detective novel) whose identifying quality (the rational search for knowledge) is identical to the social, religious and philosophical principles he finds objectionable in Western culture” (113).

The thesis statement

The novel Mumbo Jumbo is considered to be a thriller whose main aim is to reflect the vital capacity of African American heritage. The author shows his own viewpoints concerning Western culture. The author criticizes internal rational logic. The dialectical approach is used to disclose the meaning of non-Christian aspects.

The body: the fundamental issues of rationality

In my opinion, Reed’s work Mumbo Jumbo is devoted to the importance of thematic and structural characteristics of rationality. However, while disclosing the above-mentioned characteristics, the author relies on humor. Generally, there is a need to point out that the Neo-Hoodoo aesthetic is mostly based on a humor approach. So, let’s consider some examples: “The African race has quite a sense of humor. In North America, under Christianity, many of them have been reduced to glumness, depression, surliness, cynicism, malice without artfulness, and their intellectuals, in America, only appreciate heavy, serious works…” (Reed 96).

So, one can make a conclusion that the humor approach is considered to be the so-called defensive mechanism. I suppose that humor tactics used by famous African American novelist remind the readers of Black comedians. However, the primary purpose the author wanted to achieve is to show the difference between Western culture and African traditions. I suppose that it is humor, which determines the nature of parody Ishmael Reed relies on on his novel.

Lizabeth Paravisini states that “In Mumbo Jumbo, this critique of fiction and reality through humor is systematically dialectical (as is to be expected in a parody of a genre whose basic structure is dialectical) and thematically consistent” (124).

The novel is recognized to be one of the most exciting parodies of detective fiction. It is also necessary to point out that the work expands the so-called limitations which were fixed by Western models. In other words, numerous different elements appear, and creative freedom occurred.

While speaking about Flight to Canada and its relation to the above-mentioned novel, I have to point out that both works contain satirical elements and allow the readers to understand American Black/White relations. I suppose that a well-known African-American figure depicts the so-called cultural struggle between two civilizations, namely Western civilization and the African American one. Johnnella E. Butler is sure that the author discloses, “Afro American culture vis à vis the American expression of Western Civilization to reveal the intricate composition of the tantalizing, multi-dimensional freedom evading the Negro slave and even the twentieth century Afro-American” (1).

On the other hand, one is to keep in mind that both stories reflect Neo-HooDoo. To my mind, the philosophy the author relies on when writing his novels include various viewpoints concerning authorized versions of history. However, the most crucial point is that Ishmael Reed tries to replace these versions with more appropriate historical possibilities.

The conclusion

In my opinion, Reed’s works are devoted to his struggle against the injustice of Western society. As far as the title of the book has ambiguous meaning, one can make a conclusion that the title is considered to be a colonialist phrase. “The parodic scholarship of the Mumbo Jumbo undercuts the assumed primacy of the European tradition, and strenuously argues that Afro-American artists should discover their distinct heritage” (Brucker par. 22). To my mind, neo-hoodooism is the crucial aspect of Mumbo Jumbo.

Works Cited:

Brucker, Carl. Ishmael Reed’s Long Fiction, 1987. Web.

Butler, Johnnella. A Review of Flight to Canada by Ishmael Reed, 1977. Web.

Paravisini, Lizabeth. Mumbo Jumbo and the Uses of Parody, n.d. Web.

Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo, 1996. Web.

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