Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down Essay - Critical Essays

Ishmael Reed

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

In this, his second published novel, Reed explored themes upon which he was to elaborate, from different angles, in later novels. In particular, he is intent upon placing Christianity within the larger perspective of history—especially that of the Third World of African culture. Whereas religion receives major attention, Reed makes it clear that art is its natural vehicle. The relation of art to religion became the theme of Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and Flight to Canada. As in other novels, Reed shows past and present to be inseparable. Dionysus, the Germanic sacking of Rome, HooDoo magic, Amazonian fervor, Old West massacres, and the military-industrial complex explain one another. The forces of evil and good are always melodramatically presented, but here, as a consequence of the form, the ending is not only happy but idyllic. It is a parody of the Western dime novel, where the hero must ride off victoriously into the sunset. In subsequent works the prospects are more somber, and the cyclical view of history, only suggested in Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, is more prominent. The forces of evil are only temporarily overcome, or they are very much alive, and the protagonist is only beginning to find his way to combating them. The sober realism of the novelist, Raven Quickskill, at the end of Flight to Canada is characteristic. As with other contemporary black novelists, such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, nobility, pride, and hope balance out the harsh realities of racial oppression.