Solved: love as a literary theme in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo


Mumbo Jumbo Essay Prompt (English 1B) Final Essay Guidelines and Topics Your final essay is due on the last day of class and must be at least 2,000 words (8double-spaced pages), supported by academic research and accurate use of MLA stylecitation and works cited list through which you apply sound principles of logic, critical thinking,and […]

Love as a Literary Theme in Mumbo Jumbo


Love is considered to be the most profound emotion that people ever experience. Affection, whether lifelong or fleeting, as well as romantic or platonic, has the power to change lives, teach valuable lessons, shatter people’s hearts, and nurture meaningful relationships. Therefore, it is not surprising that love is one of the most commonly delved-into themes in literature. Novels, such as Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed, explore love as a literary theme in various ways to make the story memorable and heartfelt. In the mentioned work, Reed utilizes parody, which is often restricted to the distortion and imitation of a literary text, as a medium for literary and social satire.

Reed blends his satiric and parodic intentions profoundly in Mumbo Jumbo, where he parodies a storyline form (the detective novel) whose basic search for knowledge is similar to the philosophical, religious, and social principles he finds objectionable in western culture. The detective fiction model chosen by Reed is that of the thriller, a narrative category that is often linked to hard-boiled American tradition (Whetter13). Thus, the author uses magic, double consciousness, black vernacular, and detective personas while parodying the detective form. In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed adheres to the conventions of the hard-boiled detective fiction genre to mirror the constant war of humankind with itself, thus, outlining the theme of love by indicating that the characters will face obstacles in their relationships that they must overcome.

The theme of Love in Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo, as a novel of satirical criticism and ideas, works on various levels. Majorly, a postmodernist anti-detective narrative continues the utilization of hoodoo, black vernaculars, double-conscious detection, and black detective tropes of altered detective personas while parodying the detective form (Reed 175). However, on another level, the novel portrays a broader landscape against which the ancient conflict between Thanatos and Eros is played out. The point, then, is that Mumbo Jumbo mirrors the constant war of humankind with itself. On the one side lies the urge towards self-destruction and hatred, and on the other lies love, which affirms revitalization.

As an illustration, the epidemic “Jes Grew” crisis in the novel intensifies the concentration of the struggle as the United States moves into the second decade of the 20th Century. Based on a death-seeking ethos referred to as Atonism, Western civilization’s political and social structure is portrayed as contemptible. For instance, the chief Atonist, Hierophant, is delighted with the news that the watercress darter has become extinct (Reed 211). The information was additional evidence that the Atonist cause was triumphing in the battle for control of the planet. The Artists are primarily white and exemplify the deadliest dynamic of western civilization. Moreover, they are in direct competition with “Jes Grew,” who are mostly black and represent the life force.

The novel’s constant struggle between different groups and ideologies suggests a modern society in conflict. For example, as a black revolutionary, Berbelang is fighting the racist practices of various organizations, including the museums (Reed 87). The black gangster, Buddy Jackson, is fighting the white gangsters led by Schlitz. The division is also apparent among ranks as the death-dealing Wallflower Order is in a quarrel with the Knights Templar. Nonetheless, there is little manifestation of continuity and sanity amid this chaos. The author construes the broad condemnation of western civilization through the eyes of a sensitive and educated African American. Based on his reflection, the novel postulates a positive approach to the consciousness of African Americans, centered in part on Afrocentric and African American worldviews and not on the Euro-American perspective. Reed achieves this by reinterpreting the entire western civilization history, reconstructing its gods, and redefining its myths.

The theme of Love in Midsummer Night’s Dream

In Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, the dominant theme is love. In the narrative, the author evaluates how people tend to fall in love with individuals they consider beautiful to them. For instance, the author states, “she sweet lady dotes in idolatry upon this inconstant and spotted man” (Shakespeare 109). However, Shakespeare has demonstrated that the ones we perceive to love at one point can later appear repellent and unattractive. Moreover, this attraction to beauty, for a moment, might seem to be love at its most intense. Nonetheless, one of the concepts of the story is that true love is more than just physical attraction.

At one level, the four Athenians’ narrative proclaims that although the love sequence never runs smoothly, in the end, true love triumphs, bringing harmony and happiness (Shakespeare 132). Conversely, the audience at another level is forced to contemplate what a whimsical and irrational thing love is, particularly when experienced between youths. The play invites the audience to laugh at how the passion of love can make people desperate, inconstant, foolish, and blind. At various times, the passion and power of love threaten to turn women against women and men against men, destroy a friendship, and throw nature into turmoil through Oberon and Titania.

In the play, the author depicts the love that characters cannot control. In essence, this is a subject augmented by the workings of the love potion, which turned the characters, slaves, to love. However, the play ends happily with the reconciled fairy king and Queen blessing three marriages (Shakespeare 227). Thus, although the story makes fun of the effects of love on both women and men, the happy ending reaffirms the timeless relevance, beauty, and importance of love. Just like in the Mumbo Jumbo narrative, the concept of love in Midsummer Night’s Dream leads to conflict that threatens the order of the community. For example, the row between the Fairy Queen and King points to the disruption of the law of seasons.

The theme of Love in Songs of Innocence and Experience

In Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the underlying issue is that the song of innocence is the all-pervading presence of sympathy and divine love. For instance, lyrics such as “the little black boy” celebrates the child’s innocent acceptance of racial differences. “The Lamb” demonstrates a child’s confidence in the goodness of the creation and God (Blake 31). Blake utilizes irony in poems, such as “Holy Thursday,” to define a procession of children’s charity into St. Paul’s church; this infers that the youngsters are too innocent to know they are repressed. Similarly, in “The Chimney Sweeper,” the urchin’s dream of release from his drudgery, danger, and dirt offers a satiric comment on the customs of child labor.

Furthermore, the Songs of Innocence embellishes the naïve fears and hopes that inform the lives of the youngsters and trace their changes as they grow into adulthood. The author, in this regard, has written some of the poems from the viewpoint of children while others concern the young ones as the perceived standpoint of adults. Most of the works focus on the positive dynamics of fundamental human knowledge before the distortion and corruption of experience (Blake 51). Others draw attention to a more vital stance toward innocent purity; for instance, while the author shows the emotional power of fundamental Christian values, he also, over the head, exposes, as it were, of the righteous, the capacity of Christianity for encouraging cruelty and injustice.

On the other hand, the “Songs of Experience,” the complementary work of Songs of Innocence, demonstrates a sense of evil, mystery, and gloom. The author uses lyrics, such as “London,” to portray the actual world of human suffering, where the political, social, and economic doctrines of the 18th Century are indicted (Blake 70). Moreover, the speaker in the cryptic poem “The Tyger” asks the same questions concerning the creator in the same way as in “The Lamb.” However, he does not provide a reassuring answer; instead, it is proposed that the creator is malefic and savage.

Additionally, the “Songs of Experience” work through contrast and parallels to lament how the adult experience of life destroys what is useful in innocence while also enunciating the weaknesses of the innocent viewpoint. Therefore, these latter poems treat religion as less involved with the character of individual faith than the Church institution and its effects on the different minds, society, and role in politics. More so, they treat sexual morality based on the severe impact of secrecy, shame, and jealousy, which corrupt innocent love.

Therefore, just as in Mumbo Jumbo, where the author adheres to the detective fiction genre to mirror the constant war of humankind with itself, Blake uses the two collections of poems to provide parallel circumstances from opposite perspectives. The change in generous love to selfish sexuality, rural to urban scenes, childhood to adulthood, and lamb to tiger demonstrates the shift from innocence to experience. The mentioned dominant symbolic patterns are what Blake utilizes to describe the differences between the different states of the human soul.

The theme of Love in Passing

Passing by Nella Larson is an exceptional narrative concerning love. The concept of love is based on the aspect of human nature and race. Therefore, via the phenomena of “passing,” the author explores the concepts of identity and race. In the story, the decision by Clare to pass as white demonstrates the oppression of her personality and the assumption of self-hatred as an African American woman (Lurz 3). Her efforts to rejoin her roots end in disaster, demonstrating the risks of denying one’s true identity. The novel presents various categories of relationships based on love. For instance, Irene’s friendship with Clare, their association with the African American community, and their marriages. Each connection is fraught in its way, informed by betrayal and deceit. Eventually, the narrative advocates that communities remain strong while marriages and friendships end.

Just as Mumbo Jumbo mirrors the constant war of humankind with itself, Passing, at heart, concerns an individual’s place in society. As an illustration, thanks to her light skin, Clare can decide whether or not she is a member of African American society (Larsen 18). Her denial and consequent reconnection with her roots underscore the authority of a community over an individual. The return of Clare to Harlem is out of a desire, to be honest with herself and out of loneliness. Thus, the author critiques racial passing from the standpoint of ethnic distinctiveness, which in the US entails a cultural and historically African American tradition, is not an aspect that should be dismissed. Despite providing reasons for Clare’s passing, which include peace of mind and social and economic opportunity, Larsen demonstrates that these do not take the place of an individual’s ethnic culture.


In evaluating the theme of love, detective fiction is a parody that has enabled the writers of different narratives to move away from western models of logocentrism. Such models have categorized interpretations of Afro-American literature and culture and towards an assertion of that experience in contexts that are not docile to western models. Parody presents the perpetual corrective of laughter, the curative of reality that is often richer, and most significantly, the heteroglot and contradictory to fit into a straightforward and high genre. As Mumbo Jumbo demonstrates, through parody, the literary text transformation leads to substitute structures that enable writers, such as in the case of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Songs of innocence and experience,” and “Passing,” to reorient and supersede older traditions.

Works Cited

  1. Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Courier Corporation, 2012.
  2. Larsen, Nella. Passing. Restless Books, 2018.
  3. Lurz, Katharina. The Relationship Between Nella Larsen’s” Passing” and the Rhinelander Case. GRIN Verlag, 2018.
  4. Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  5. Shakespeare, William, et al. A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. Washington Square Press, 2009.
  6. Whether Kevin Sean. Understanding genre and medieval romance. Routledge, 2017.

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Published On: 01-01-1970

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