Thursday, October 26th, 2017...4:57 pmPeter

A Mesh of Experimental Poetry with an Overarching Thematic Story

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Of what genre is Cane?  Is it novel, poetry, or both?  There is not an apparent continuity between stories/poems but the themes of each inform the reading of others.  “Reapers,” “Face,” “Georgia Dusk,” and “Conversion” among others are most certainly poems, but then “Fern,” “Esther,” and “Box Seat” are short stories.  I would classify its genre not so much by the format of its tales, but by the subject matter of its motifs.

Cane expresses what occurs when idealism meets reality and the latter quashes it.  Many of the tales begin with a beautiful woman or an innocent and good aspect of something, which is broken by the realism in which it finds itself.  In a contextual sense, Cane is a literary expression of the disillusionment that African-Americans felt as they were promised civil freedom when the consequent reality they experienced was much different.  This idea is summarized well in “Esther,” especially on page 34: “She mustnt wish. Wishes only make you restless” (Toomer).  Wishing is a form of denying reality or wanting something that isn’t present.  The American Negro mustn’t wish not only because white society precludes them from doing so, but also because wishing is arguably accepting the futility of their position by dreaming of what it could be.

Cane is full of dual meanings like this; therefore, it could be placed into various genres: race, realism, history, culture, African studies, American studies, civil rights, experimentalism, abstraction, etc.  But based on its emphasis on blackness and an oppressive reality crushing ideals, I would place it under “dream” literature.  While such a genre doesn’t formally exist, a case can be made that Cane warrants it.  Some of its dreams are nightmares, some are utopias, and others actually come true.  Calling it “dream” literature allows it to occupy many spaces simultaneously without necessarily pigeonholing it into a more constrictive genre.

1 Comment

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 2:13 am

    Peter–a really intriguing arrival at the idea of “dream literature,” with the many meanings of dream relevant to your work here.

    Two things to consider/FYI: 1. unless you mean to quote from _Cane_, rephrase “American Negro.” You seem to have accidentally slipped into dated race-language there. 2. At the opening of your last paragraph, you list aesthetics (“realism,” “experimentalism”), academic fields (e.g., “American studies”), and ideas/abstractions (e.g., “race”). Did you mean this combo of things? (A genuine question, as always.)

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