The Terrible Twos Analysis

The Terrible Twos (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

ph_0111201273-Reed.jpgIshmael Reed Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The Terrible Twos is at once a satire, always funny but most often bitter, and a morality play that involves the White House, Wall Street, the media, and industrial and commercial interests, as well as a dozen bizarre and interesting characters. A modern version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), the story begins in the winter of 1980, described by a statement from the Commerce Department as so rain-poor and so cold that records are set across the nation. Millions of people are unemployed, millions are without heat, and many are freezing to death, including one man on the steps of a locked church. Despite such conditions, however, Christmas is set to begin on Thanksgiving with the opulent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and will run through the Inauguration Day celebration in January when the fortieth President of the United States will be sworn into office. Attired in a three-thousand-dollar suit, warm and well-fed, smiling and waving, the First Actor is accompanied by his wife, Ms. Actorperson. The extravagance of the inauguration is made possible by West Coast money which has never been heard of by East Coast money, and Wall Street is nervous.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade serves as the vehicle by which the major characters are introduced. During the parade, Oswald Zumwalt is preparing dinner for his boss, Herman Schneider, who is watching the parade with his brother George. Down the street, Fred King and his two-year-old son are watching the parade when the child becomes fascinated by a little black man, a ventriloquist who can imitate the voice of any famous world leader. On one of the passing floats of the parade is Dean Clift, the most famous male model in America. In an office building across the street, Bob Krantz is talking on the telephone to James Whyte, owner of Whyte Broadcasting Company. After the telephone conversation, Krantz’s office is invaded by Rex Stuart, a soap-opera star who has just learned that he has been fired from “Trials and Sorrows.”

The actors, people who were dropouts in the 1960’s, are now running the Establishment they once tried to destroy. The parade, an objective correlative for the surrealistic and satiric morality play which is about to take place, is characterized by inflated theatrical figures, floating and bobbing through a city where hunger and cold prevail.

“Christmas Future (1990)” finds Oswald Zumwalt now head of the North Pole Development Corporation. He has been successful in obtaining the exclusive rights to Santa Claus. It is only a matter of time before Congress will vote to give him twenty thousand acres of land to develop Christmasland, a multi-million-dollar domed vacationland at the North Pole. There is now only one Santa Claus, played by Rex Stuart, the aging alcoholic refugee from the soap operas. Adolf Hitler’s birthday has been made a national holiday. The Actor President has been replaced by the Model President, Dean Clift. Bob Krantz, the former television executive, is his chief of administration; Krantz, along with representatives of various money groups, runs the country, which faces a grave crisis.

Nuclear weapons have proliferated to such an extent that even Third World countries have nuclear capability. These Third World countries are now considered a greater threat than the Soviet Union, Washington’s chief ally. Over-population is even more serious. People are classified into two groups—the vitals and the surplus people (black or poor people). The Model President is a figurehead who has been put into office by a small group of people, including the Reverend James, a direct-mail expert, and Bob Krantz, a former member of the S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society). Krantz has created a plan that will take care of surplus people and surplus nuclear weapons at the same time: Operation Two Birds. A bomb will be dropped on New York City, eliminating millions of surplus people (vitals no longer live in New York City); the attack will be blamed on Nigeria, and the surplus bombs will then be dropped on that country, thus killing “two birds” with one stone.

The heir to the Schneider retail chain stores, a former seminary student who has been expelled from the church for his obsessive concern with St. Nicholas, has become the cult leader of a group called the Nicolaites. Called Boy Bishop by his followers, the former seminarian spends his time with wealthy people raising money while his followers beg in the streets. Boy Bishop’s plan is to take Christmas away from the oilmen, who own everything, and substitute St. Nicholas for Santa Claus. One of his followers, however, has other plans. The little black...

(The entire section is 1913 words.)

The Terrible Twos Bibliography (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Library Journal. CVII, June 1, 1982, p. 1100.

Nation. CCXXXIV, May 22, 1982, p. 617.

The New York Review of Books. XXIX, August 12, 1982, p. 35.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, July 18, 1982, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXI, May 7, 1982, p. 74.

Saturday Review. IX, June, 1982, p. 72.

West Coast Review of Books. VIII, September, 1982, p. 31.