Thursday, October 26th, 2017...6:42 pmMegan

Using People and Place To Classify Jean Toomer’s Cane.

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A fusion of fiction, poetry, prose, and social commentary, Jean Toomer’s Cane offers insight into the experiences of blacks living in the South during the 1920s by offering readers a series of vignettes that each tackle a unique component or perspective of rural and urban life in Georgia. While, at first, the book’s frequent shifts between literary structures, subjects, and viewpoints might make the overall work seem a bit disjointed, the different sections of the work are united by their rich imagery and their tendency to connect the landscape of the South with the lives of those black individuals who inhabit it. For example, rarely is a non-white individual within Toomer’s book described merely by the color of their skin. Instead, they are people who possess a “mangrove-gloomed, yellow flower face” or have the “whole countryside flow[ing] into their eyes” (14, 23). In addition, most of the horrific experiences that black persons suffer in the South are not depicted by Toomer in a factual, matter-of-fact way, but rather, are presented through the lens of a nature-based scene or metaphor. In Toomer’s book, a woman experiencing trauma is an individual with “muscles \ [that] are cluster grapes of sorrow,” and the death of a man from lynching is marked by the absence of his “Breath- the last sweet scent of cane” (12, 38). In this way, it becomes clear that the people of Cane and of the South in the 1920s are more than just human figures, they are an embodiment of their landscape who are deeply connected to the geographic place in which they live. For this reason, while Cane can undoubtedly be classified under a numerous set of genres, I would argue that it can be largely considered as a romanticized narrative, a book of romanticized realistic-fiction, or a surreal depiction of Southern life that incorporates aspects of transcendentalism. In Cane, people and place are one.


  •   Charlotte Hayden
    October 27th, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I agree with your classification of the novel. I wonder if rather than categorizing it as “romanticized realistic-fiction,” we could create a name for this fusion of fictional characters and their very real physical locations. Maybe it is a “location lens?”

  • I really like your choice of genre here. I never really thought of “Cane” being a romanticized realistic-fiction, but after reading your post, you make some great points of how “Cane” should be classified as this. Well done.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Megan–a brave struggle with categorization in your post! When a text proves thus defiant to description–or easy categorization–it perhaps both tells us something about the strength of the text (as do your specific insights re _Cane_) and begs the question of what categories in general alternately enable and preclude us from seeing.

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