Japanese by Spring Essay - Critical Essays

Ishmael Reed

Critical Context

Chappie Puttbutt represents a new development in characterization for Reed. Protagonists such as the Loop Garoo Kid in Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969), PaPa La Bas in Mumbo Jumbo (1972), and Raven Quickskill in Flight to Canada (1976), while not autobiographical characters, represent Reed’s point of view: The values of these characters are the values of their respective novels. Beginning with the character of Ian Ball in Reckless Eyeballing (1986), however, Reed began to develop characters who did not completely embody the point of view of the novel or the novelist. Like Puttbutt, Ball had adjusted his beliefs to fit those of the people who could most help his career.

Perhaps one reason for an avoidance of what Reed elsewhere calls a “Neo-Hoodoo,” or Africa-conscious, protagonist is that characters such as PaPa La Bas or Loop Garoo, steeped in African tradition, might upset Reed’s carefully crafted cultural balance in the novel. Reed’s earlier Neo-Hoodoo aesthetic championed African art forms as they appeared in African American works. The aesthetic of Japanese by Spring is subtly different: It champions all cultures, never one at the expense of another. While it is possible to celebrate African elements in American art and letters without becoming Afrocentric—in fact, elsewhere Reed has done so—it would be easy for an audience to misread such celebration as cultural chauvinism, which would be contrary to the spirit of Japanese...

(The entire section is 620 words.)