Thursday, October 26th, 2017...8:43 pmhange

Cane seems Punk

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The first 50 pages of Cane by Jean Toomer are composed of a series of vignettes revolving around the stories of African-Americans, specifically women, in/from the South. These vignettes are composed in various forms: poetry, prose, a combination of poetry and (within) prose. The poetry, both in individual parts and within the short narratives, does give enough context for me to draw a picture of a neighborhood. They seem to be freestanding. Meanwhile, the narratives vary between characters and subjects so much that they cannot create an image of a single neighborhood.

I do not know how to classify this in terms of genre and form. Because of it’s mixed-media nature and vignette-structure, I am hesitant to call Cane a collection of short stories like The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. However, I am not sure how to classify this book in traditional genre categories like a drama, tragedy, realistic fiction, or lyric poem. The mix of poetry and prose in Cane, which complicates its ability to be classified, gives the book a rebellious, almost punk attitude. From my reading, I see it as a bricolage, a fancy French word for mixed-media diy collages made from whatever is available at the moment, which are popular in punk culture. It’s focus on African-American women and composition structure give off rebellious vibes because it’s nontraditional. I think using “punk” to describe Cane is good way to understand the nontraditional, complex nature of the book.


  • Elaine, I love your classification of Cane as ‘punk’–I hadn’t thought about it that way but I can definitely see where you would make that connection–especially in considering punk subcultures rooted in people of color’s resistances. I also thought of Cisneros’s House on Mango Street as I was reading Cane, but I think you’re right to point out that there is a really big difference due largely to Toomer’s wide range of genres in connecting the stories.

  • While I think the punk categorization is certainly interesting, could you elaborate on what you mean by “punk”? I read it as an anachronism, as the rise of punk culture took place during the latter half of the 20th century. By punk do you simply mean being rebellious? If so then punk may be simplifying the text by placing it into a cultural pigeonhole that neglects its many facets.
    That said, I like how you notice that Cane is made up of many different neighborhoods and as such, doesn’t ascribe to any singular identity. I would take this logic further to see what overarching image all these dissimilar images create.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:57 am

    Elaine–this post does so well to kind of perform (in the best sense) the difficulty of using “traditional” genre categories to describe _Cane_. You thereby prove, by demonstration, the *inventiveness* of its form.

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