The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The characters in Mumbo Jumbo suggest allegory rather than social realism. Each character represents a philosophical worldview, a composite of ideas from each side of the Atonist and Jes Grew conflict. There is little attempt by the author to flesh out the characters and give them the background, personal traits, and breadth of experience normally associated with characters in a novel. Rather than using real people, the novel outlines positions on African American concerns by placing its characters in unresolvable conflict.

Few of the characters change or develop from their initial depictions in the text. Woodrow Wilson Jefferson, the ignorant rural African American, never matures in his urban environment, and his naïve impressions seem forced by the end of the novel. Black Herman and Von Vampton are both occultists, but Black Herman strictly pursues positive African American values with his powers while Von Hampton is corrupt to the core. This strict duality of good and evil holds true for other characters in the text. Generally, the black characters represent a spectrum of African American attitudes and worldviews, while white characters each tend to reflect a single viewpoint.

On the personal level, the characters are easy marks for ridicule and satire because of their ideological rigidity. The satire also works on an abstract level because the characters stand for philosophical attitudes of a broader nature. Reed shows the hypocrisy and extremism of many aspects of both black and white life through this type of allegorical or representational character presentation.

PaPa LaBas and Earline are exceptions to the general presentation of types, in that their...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

PaPa LaBas

PaPa LaBas, a fifty-year-old black man who is the founder and head of the Mumbo Jumbo Kathedral. He is on a holy quest to find the sacred HooDoo (actually ancient Egyptian) text of the Jes Grew movement, now rumored to be located in New York City. Jes Grew celebrates the life of the body and the spirit in opposition to the life-denying, death-oriented, guilt-ridden, dominant Judeo-Christian culture. Jes Grew’s chief proponents are black, and its chief manifestation is dancing. Jes Grew is opposed by the atonists, whose enforcement branch is the Wallflower Order, which is dedicated to stamping out Jes Grew and, in essence, keeping humankind in mental slavery. Papa LaBas’ helpers in the quest to save Jes Grew by rescuing the lost text include several of his Kathedral workers and Black Herman, who is more adept at using HooDoo skills than is Papa LaBas.

Hinckle Von Vampton

Hinckle Von Vampton, a white man who is hundreds of years old; he is PaPa LaBas’ main opponent. He is also after the Jes Grew text, but so that he can destroy it. Von Vampton, who has learned the secret of eternal life, is a member of the Knights Templar, the discredited military arm of the Wallflower Order. The sacred text of HooDoo was once in the possession of the Knights Templar, and Von Vampton was the Templars’ librarian. He has many schemes to discredit Jes Grew and those possessed by it, including publishing a magazine, Benign...

(The entire section is 601 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Mumbo Jumbo is a book with a great many characters. Some of them, including President Warren Harding and James Weldon Johnson, are...

(The entire section is 654 words.)