Thursday, October 26th, 2017...6:15 amMichaela

Cane and Genre

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I find this blog post particularly challenging. I tried to approach this prompt by thinking of other texts that took similar approaches to understand and vocalize different topics. I threw some ideas around in my mind but when I think of Cane I recall another book that I read in a different class: The Trial by Franz Kafka. The two texts are not similar in terms of the harsh topics they deal with, rather the texts approach realistic topics through fiction. This realistic fiction creates a sense of tragic awareness heightened by the fact that very few of the characters in Cane are given a last name. The majority of Jean Toomer’s characters are not granted a right that most people experience. The characters who do not have a last name are never given a chance to have an identity.

This plays into why I would label Cane as a mix between realistic fiction and tragedy. The text creates characters and stories that mimic what is occurring in the South in the United States after the Great Migration. The tragedy in Cane exists because I am able to call this a realistic fiction. These events are not stand alone features within American history; rather they play into a larger pattern of systematic oppression, abuse, and murder of black people.


  • I had not read _The Trial_ by Kafka, so thank you for the recommendation. I think your point about how fiction is used to convey the realities of African Americans during the Great Migration is poignant. It also gets me thinking about how fiction, or even storytelling in general, is a powerful tool to exposing the harsh truths to audiences that would otherwise be uninterested or unaware of them. Because the systematic oppression of black people was and continues to be overlooked by people in power, I think that the efforts to illuminate black people’s trials and triumphs is extremely valuable. Thank you for bringing this point to the conversation!

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:37 am

    Michaela–such an intriguing connection to Kafka. For many reasons, but here are two: 1. _The Trial_ wasn’t published until 1925 (after K’s death and two years after _Cane_ came out, but roughly contemporaneous with Toomer’s work). 2. Remember Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Minor Literature?” Remember their exemplary writer? Kafka.

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