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...
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