Thursday, October 26th, 2017...7:30 pmgrahamk14

What is CANE?

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After reading the first 49 pages of Jean Toomer’s book, “CANE,” the foremost question that comes to mind is what does the word CANE represent? Is CANE merely a title for a compilation of poems, stories, and songs? Or is CANE indicative of the sugar cane that millions of slaves labored over in the southern fields? In my opinion, the word CANE is symbolic of the south as a whole. “CANE” is a collection of stories, songs, and poems that portray the south in its darkest light. “CANE” introduces the reader to Black Folk literature, and Toomer wants the reader to understand and grasp what life was like for blacks in the south in America. As for genre, therefore, I would categorize “CANE” as Black Folk literature whose stories, songs, and poems poignantly portray the reality, hardships, and horrors that blacks suffered in the south. Its message is to open the reader’s eyes to history and the truth of black southern life and to bear witness to the pain and suffering that blacks endured.


  • I agree with your statement that Cane is both symbolic of the physical South (sugar cane) and of the cathartic emotions of the hardships faced there. While this is a very general concept that does not state a specific genre, I am guessing from your last sentence that this is a commentary of the south based in poetic-form rhetoric to you. Would that seem accurate?

  • I think the ambiguity of the title was a purposeful choice of Toomer. Remember that Cane can also allude to Cane and Abel, where Cane killed his brother and was subsequently exiled from the Garden of Eden. This estrangement of Cane and of African Americans may be something Toomer is purposely alluding to, as African Americans are shamed simply because of their ancestry.
    Also, is it necessary to consider Cane as simply black literature? Could it not simply speak toward the human condition in general?
    I’m trying to complicate your observations, but I think these are good points. I particularly like your use of “darkest light,” as the oxymoron alludes to the difficulty of understanding the text due to its many contradictory layers.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Peter–good reminder of Cain and Abel, here. I wonder about the middle of your comment, though: do you mean to imply that “black literature” cannot speak to “the human condition in general?”

  • I think that it was interesting how you looked at this prompt through the context of the title. “Cane” and the motifs the word presented were effective themes to pick up on to develop an understanding of what genre “Cane” can be classified as in relation to the time in which it was written, and the content within the book. I think your final two sentences aptly look at the context in which this book was written and the content within the book together as one thought.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:52 am

    Graham–a strong post, and I’m especially struck by your emerging emphasis on “Black Folk literature” as Toomer both echoes and creates this multifaceted tradition.

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