Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down Essay - Critical Evaluation

Ishmael Reed

Critical Evaluation

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down is Ishmael Reed’s second novel, and the first after the publication of his manifesto on neo-hoodooism, in which he calls for an African American aesthetic based on Voodoo, Egyptian mythology, and improvisational musical forms. Hoodoo is an aesthetic that challenges the Judeo-Christian tradition, rationalism, and technology.

A freewheeling fantasy, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down utilizes various forms of early twentieth century popular culture—the Western adventure as chronicled by pulp magazines (the source of the name Yellow Back, for the yellowed pulpy paper of the Western magazines and paperback novels) and adventure stories on radio in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The tone, however, is not nostalgic: It is a satiric acknowledgment of the failure of pop culture to include the experiences of African Americans and other minorities. Reed’s novel adapts the epic struggle of good guys against bad guys in the American Western to present the struggle of Reed’s American Neo-Hoodoo Church against organized religion, land barons, imperialists, and other exclusionist tyrants.

Reed’s concept of neo-hoodooism finds its American influences in Voodoo of New Orleans, Louisiana, but traces it to Haiti and, Reed says, ultimately to the vodun, or Voodoo, religion of West Africa. He follows novelist-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and other African American writers before him in reading the Old Testament prophet Moses as learning African conjuring secrets in Egypt and bringing them into the Judeo-Christian tradition. Reed presents the Loop Garoo Kid as an exiled son of Jahweh, an African trickster god mistakenly considered by Western religions to be an evil figure. Loop’s name comes from the French werewolf figure Loup Garou (ultimately, a cognate of the word “werewolf” through the Frankish word garulf). This French...

(The entire section is 773 words.)