Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1969

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: 1801-1809

Locale: Yellow Back Radio (a town in the Old West) and Washington, D.C.

Characters DiscussedThe Loop Garoo Kid

The Yellow Back Radio Broke-DownLoop Garoo Kid, a black circus cowboy, an American Hoo-Doo manifestation of Lucifer. His evil reputation, however, is unwarranted: He identifies himself as “the cosmic jester,” an eternal pleasure principle. A member of the divine family, he is now sought by the Christian God as the only one who can prevent the unhealthy domination of the eternal goddess, who appears variously as his former girlfriend Diane (the Roman goddess Diana) and the Virgin Mary.

Drag Gibson

Drag Gibson, a wealthy and powerful rancher, Loop Garoo’s nemesis. He started with nothing, riding drag (hence his name, though it also implies transvestitism) for other cattlemen, but he amassed a fortune through his cunning and ruthlessness. Drag also is a supernatural character: The explorers Lewis and Clark appear near the middle of the novel and reveal that Drag has escaped from hell. His struggle with Loop Garoo is therefore a form of the eternal struggle between good and evil.

Mustache Sal

Mustache Sal, Drag’s wife, formerly Loop Garoo’s girlfriend. Sal marries Drag in answer to a personal ad, motivated by the opportunity to inherit his wealth. She crawls before Loop on the night before her wedding, begging to have sex with him. Instead, Loop brands a hell’s bat on her abdomen.

Chief Showcase

Chief Showcase, an American Indian, Drag’s lackey. A cousin of Cochise, Showcase is the last surviving Crow Indian and so is kept by Drag as a literal “Showcase.” Although he plays the defeated primitive or noble savage before Drag, he first appears in a high-tech helicopter, rescuing Loop Garoo from Drag’s minions. Chief Showcase is the first to recognize Loop as Lucifer, and he expresses the essential unity of the black and Native American causes and identities. His secret revenge on the white man is tobacco: With feigned civility, he offers a cigar to every enemy he encounters.

Field Marshall Theda Doompussy Blackwell

Field Marshall Theda Doompussy Blackwell, an army general. He is identified as President Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of defense, though no such title existed in Jefferson’s time. With Pete the Peek, he develops a plan to conquer the American West and set himself up as emperor. Theda is depicted as a stereotypical Pentagon hawk: He wheedles money from Congress through Pete the Peek and lavishes it on scientists (Harold Rateater and Dr. Coult) who develop new weapons for him.

Pete the Peek

Pete the Peek, a congressman, Theda’s lover. He is called “The Peek” because he is a voyeur. Theda treats him as a stooge, apparently interested only in the federal appropriations Pete brings him.

Pope Innocent

Pope Innocent, putatively Loop Garoo’s rival, to whom Drag appeals for help. Innocent recalls the days before Loop’s estrangement from the Judeo-Christian God and pleads for him to return. The novel ends with Loop’s reunion with Innocent on his ship bound for Europe. There were no popes named Innocent in the nineteenth century, so this character is one of the many anachronisms in the novel. He represents the ageless church as partner/nemesis of Loop Garoo, rather than a historical individual.

BibliographyFabre, Michel. “Postmodernist Rhetoric in Ishmael Reed’s Yellow Back Radio Broke Down. ” In The Afro-American Novel Since 1960: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Peter Bruck and Wolfgang Karrer. Amsterdam: B. R. Brüner, 1982. The best discussion of the novel to date. Fabre scrupulously analyzes the rhetorical strategies Reed employs in the novel. Fabre also links the novel to a discussion of postmodernist experiments.Fox, Robert Elliot. “Blacking the Zero: Toward a Semiotics of Neo-HooDoo.” Black American Literature Forum 18 (1984): 95-99. Although this is a difficult article because of the technical language of contemporary literary criticism, Fox’s discussion of the African background of Reed’s Neo-HooDooism is valuable. Fox explains that Reed’s motif of the blackened circle beside the empty circle is central to Reed’s artistic vision.Fox, Robert Elliot. Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Fox places Reed in the context of recent African American experimental novelists and gives a brief discussion of Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. Fox argues that Loop’s real adversary is the pope and discusses the pope’s function in the novel.Martin, Reginald. Ishmael Reed and the New Black Critics. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Martin places Reed within the context of African American literary history, especially the conflict between Reed and the “black aesthetic” of Amiri Baraka. Martin also defines Reed’s Neo-HooDoo aesthetic.Mvuyekure, Pierre-Damien. The “Dark Heathenism” of the American Novelist Ishmael Reed: African Voodoo as American Literary Hoodoo. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007. Examines the intersection of Hoodoo and jazz in Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. Reed, Ishmael. “Ishmael Reed on Ishmael Reed.” Black World 23 (June, 1974): 20-34. An essential article for understanding Reed’s perspective. The interview focuses on the literary intentions of Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. Reed explains that the meaning of “Yellow Back,” for example, derives from nineteenth century Eastern hack writers who wrote “dime Westerns,” called “yellow backs.”Schmitz, Neil. “Neo-Hoodoo: The Experimental Fiction of Ishmael Reed.” Twentieth Century Literature 20 (April, 1974): 129-138. Schmitz discusses Reed’s experimental fiction and argues that Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down degenerates into polemics. The proselytizing for HooDooism unacceptably slows the novel’s action.
Categories: Characters