African-American literature of 20th century

yellow back radio BROKE-DOWN


Yellow Back Radio Broke-down is a highly interesting piece of fiction that introduces readers to deeper aspects of black narrative and exposes him to a freedom of style that was hitherto missing from African-American literature of 20th century. But this free-flowing style of writing matches the main purpose of the novel i.e. To attack institutionalization of everything from culture to literature to religion. In his book, Reed exposes the problems that arise from restricted thinking and dogmatic religious beliefs. But these problems are attributed solely to white society and its false beliefs of supremacy. In his novel, Reed attacks the white society and culture and mocks everything that it believes in including institutionalized Christianity. The author thus maintains that white people have no right to feel superior when even their religion is powerless against the animistic religions of ancient African. By turning his protagonist into a hoodoo trickster, the author is not merely illustrating the power of magic but actually demystifying the myths surrounding the white society and religion. In short, Reed mocks and subverts every illusion of white superiority while at the same time, promoting and endorsing black culture and values. The author creates two opposite forces in the novel. Atonists like Drag Gibson and Pope represent the whites while the protagonist represents everything that Atonists oppose including freedom in religion, art and literature.


We come across numerous examples of author’s attempts to dismantle white superiority and instead establish black supremacy. For example, in one instance Loop Garoo Kid, the protagonist uses his black magical power to thwart a woman’s attempts to seduce and over power him. The Atonist gang leader’s wife is the kind of woman who has the power to subdue her opponents but Loop Garoo doesn’t come under her spell as he uses his ancient mojo spells to make himself impervious to her sexual charm. An Atonist attests to the powers of the protagonist when he reports: “The Kid put some kind of a cross on her, had some kind of gris dolls placed in her transmitter and the Woman had to sign off and get out of town” (129). Another clear example of black domination can seen in the instance where Pope expresses his inability to overpower Loop Garoo or destroy his powers:

When African slaves were sent to Haiti, Santo Domingo and other Latin American countries, we Catholics attempted to change their pantheon, but the natives merely placed our art alongside theirs. Our insipid and uninspiring saints were no match for theirs…. It’s important that we wipe it out because it can always become a revolutionary force” (153-54)


Loop Garoo Kid would have become victim of so-called white dominance had it not been for his meeting with a conjure woman, Zozo Labrique, who exposes her to hoodoo culture. The protagonist realizes that this was the one way he could match and neutralize the impact of white power in the society. From the examples quoted above, it is clear that Loop Garoo’s powers were stronger and more powerful than white supremacy in all its forms. With the help of his magical powers, he didn’t only defeat white culture but also managed to prove that black culture was superior. White woman, in the example above, represents the entire white culture that lures people with its false charms in an attempt to dominate them for the rest of their lives. Loop Garoo could see through the fake beauty of this woman and in other words, he could see beyond the charming facade of white culture. Once he recognized how white culture works, he realized that it could be defeated and conquered and therefore he always bore in mind the last lesson of Zozo: “…don’t forget the gris, the mojo, the wangols old Zozo taught you and when you need more power play poker with the dead” (26) Similarly Loop Garoo also attacks white religious beliefs when he pits his powers against the strength of institutionalized Christianity and proves that the latter lacked the power to vanquish the former. By mocking the strength of Christianity, the author attacked the Church for being nothing but an instrument of oppression that whites used to subjugate other religions, cultures and identities.


Once we understand the crux of the novel, Yellow Back Radio- Broke-Down becomes more engrossing and much easier to read. The colorful language suddenly gains more significance when we know why it is essentially being used and how it aids the author in achieving his real purpose. Understanding of the thesis is crucial to grasping the major ideas that Reed conveys and promotes. The tactics used by white people to establish superiority have always created intense friction between whites and other races in America. For this reason, most black authors focused on highlighting the importance of their own culture and heritage. Reed’s book is a classic example in this connection as it seeks to destroy pre-conceived notions about white supremacy.


1) Reed, Ishmael. Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. Garden City: Doubleday, 1969.

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