There are three keys to understanding Reed’s handling of his characters. One is his free mingling of fictional and historical figures. The second is his turning away from character as it is generally defined, in terms of realistic detail, psychological development, and the like, toward those “essential elements,” as Reed calls them, that “distinguish the character from other people.” Instead of fleshing out his characters physically and psychologically, Reed attempts to “abstract those qualities from the characters just like someone making a doll in West or East Africa.” Acknowledging that this approach may appear “grotesque or distorted” to the modern (Western) reader, Reed contends that “I’m not interested in rendering a photograph of a person. I’m interested in capturing his soul and putting it in a cauldron or in a novel.” Reed’s mode of characterization, like his mode of fiction writing, suggests that “black” magic and a doubly black humor are connected, even interchangeable. The third key to Reed’s approach to character involves adapting his African aesthetic to an American context by drawing on the native culture’s own contributions to an art of abstraction and broadly defined strokes: vaudeville, newspaper headlines, and, above all, cartoons and comic strips. The result is a fiction of types deliberately sketched along the crudest, most satirical lines possible in an art designed to give offense, where grotesquerie and buffoonery prevail, and where the chief Western models are Nathanael West and François Rabelais, not Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope.
It should not, therefore, be altogether surprising that when Quickskill meets Brown, the fictional character...
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