As in any eponymous work, the author’s principal focus is on Banjo, whose name receives special notice from McKay: “The banjo dominates the other instruments. . . . And Banjo’s face shows that he feels that his instrument is first . . . the banjo is preeminently the musical instrument of the American Negro.” Yet Goosey, the “yellow” exponent of the philosophy of uplift, a thoughtful and at times philosophic character who can be thought of as a representative of the W. E. B. DuBois-Alain Locke school of thought, counters that the banjo is a symbol of Dixie, of bondage, of slavery; and he advocates blacks’ playing the violin, the piano. He and Taloufa refuse to play “any of that black-face coon stuff,” he says, to which Banjo replies that he likes the instrument and sees “saxophone-jazzing” as “the money stuff today.” His liking for the banjo is clearly the effect of his being a “child of the Cotton Belt.” His enthusiasm for the ukulele and mandolin likewise reveals an attachment to the old days and ways of the South, but wherever he goes in Marseilles he finds that though people are amused by the banjo, they are more often entertained by the piano. The beachboys are therefore clearly identified with a musical tradition and technology that have been superseded, and when Banjo and Ray set off together at the end of the story, they do so as itinerant workers rather than as poets or troubadours, regardless of their spiritual state of mind and predilections. Ray is an unsuccessful writer; Banjo is an unsuccessful musician; the arts are merely accompaniments to their lives.
(The entire section is 660 words.)