First-time readers of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo are overwhelmed by the amount of information contained in the novel, including history, mythology, politics, literary history, music, and photography. Critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., offers the best way to deal with this confusion: Think of it as “gumbo,” a complex stew of irregularly shaped chunks and spicy seasonings. Like gumbo, the novel has a cumulative effect, which builds and changes as one reads and lingers long after one has finished the novel.
Mumbo Jumbo is a satire, but the objects of Reed’s critiques are not always clear because there are so many. He satirizes politics by having Cab Calloway run against Warren Harding for president of the United States and by naming Hinkle Von Vampton’s estate Spiraling Agony after Spiro Agnew. He critiques music history by having Moses steal rock lyrics from The Work and by including a photograph of the rock group Black Sabbath. Satires of literary history also flood the book, including a stab at James Baldwin—“King Baldwin 1 grants the Templars his palace as their headquarters”—and a condemnation of Confessions of the Black Bull God Osiris by Bilious Styronicus (a stab at William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, 1967). Reed even critiques formal education by having PaPa LaBas give university lectures on Jes Grew in the 1960’s.
In addition, Mumbo Jumbo is a parody of literary...
(The entire section is 463 words.)