Observing that Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo both oscillates between present‐ and past‐tense narration and traffics in historical anachronism, this article argues that these dual modes of temporal disjunction establish the novel as a work of historical allegory whose 1920s‐era story registers as actually being about the post–civil rights period in which the novel was published. The essay goes on to suggest that such an allegorical function is served by the African American novel in general, insofar as African American novels are understood to thematize struggles for freedom that are always relevant for their present‐day Black readership, irrespective of the historical contexts in which the novels themselves are set. Finally, the essay notes that the 1988 trade paperback edition of Mumbo Jumbo substitutes different images for some of the ones that were featured in the original 1972 edition and contends that, in so doing, it at once achieves and emblematizes the perennial allegorical relevance that characterizes the African American novel as such, thereby securing its status as a signal work within the canon.

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