Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In essence, Banjo is a continuation of Home to Harlem: The location has been shifted from the United States to France, but the dramatis personae are remarkably similar, and their exploits differ only insofar as Harlem and Marseilles differ. Naturally, the problem then became what to do with a third novel. The answer was to shift from the urban world of men to the rural world of men and women, families and children, teachers and preachers in Jamaica, and remarkably, Banana Bottom (1933), with its balance of sense and sensuality, showed that McKay could combine emotional and social realism, propaganda and polemics, characterization and plot. It seems that he recognized the limitations of Banjo and that it did not enhance his growing reputation as poet and fiction writer.

One of the most frequently cited weaknesses in Banjo is the tendency for Ray’s comments to overwhelm the story and change the balance from fiction to propagandist tract, and when Goosey adds his philosophical—and at times sophomoric—musings, the novel is endangered. Yet the inclusion of discussion on major matters of the day (such as race, capitalism, socialism, and xenophobia) should not be condemned per se: The unemployed and discriminated against are often voluble critics of social policy and not infrequently have some well-informed, first-class exponents of their causes as spokesmen.

While advocating the cause of...

(The entire section is 490 words.)