Themes and Meanings
As a novel of ideas and satirical criticism, Mumbo Jumbo works on a number of levels. Primarily, it is a postmodernist detective novel in the tradition of black detective fiction. It uses altered detective personas, black vernacular, double consciousness, and magic while parodying the detective form. Mumbo Jumbo’s metaphysical central mystery and its revisionist approach to history are additional indications of postmodern detective viewpoints.
On another level, it is a witty indictment of extreme behavior of all types. Characters representing many aspects of the ideological spectrum are shown to be buffoonish and narrow-minded. Abdul Hamid, sounding his clarion call of black power, is ridiculed in the end as a black puritan who burns the sacred text because it is, in his estimation, too lewd and scandalous.
On another level, the book suggests the ancient conflict between Eros and Thanatos. Put in its simplest terms, Mumbo Jumbo reflects humankind’s constant war with itself. On one side lie love and life, affirming revitalization; on the other side lie hate and self-destruction. Reed seems to suggest that the intensity of the conflict heightened as the world moved into the twentieth century.
The social and political structure of Western civilization, based on a death-seeking ethos, is portrayed as contemptible. An example of this occurs when the chief Atonist is overjoyed to see that the watercress darter has become extinct, further proof that the Atonist cause is winning the fight for control of the planet.
The continuous conflict between different ideologies and groups in the novel suggests a society as well as a world in conflict. Berbelang is a black revolutionary fighting the racist practices of institutions such as museums. There is even division among ranks, as the Knights Templar quarrel with the death-dealing Wallflower Order. Amid this chaos, there seem to be few manifestations of sanity and continuity.
A broad condemnation of Western civilization is constructed through the eyes of an educated, sensitive African American. The novel posits a positive approach to African American consciousness based on...
(The entire section is 902 words.)