Thursday, October 26th, 2017...8:11 pmBecca Stout

What is Cane?

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Narrowing down the genre of Jean Toomer’s Cane is difficult because the story lacks an explicitly defined style of writing. The basic genres it best resembles are that of drama and tragedy. However, the characters’ struggles are more realistic than drama and tragedy genres in general, so the best description is the cross-genre of dramatic realism or tragic realism. Beyond the basic greater genre of the book, it falls under many categories of literature. With its combination of short stories and poems, Cane defies many distinct structures and topics that it could be classified as. Because the structure of the book contains both short stories and poetry and is not just one continuous section of prose, the characters between each are different and the intricacies of their lives are different. These separate sections create an anthology-like creation of Toomer’s works. However, they are also all similar in that they talk about life for Southern United States black women or white women’s relationships with black men. Because they tell a collective story while each different section tells its own story, the book is set up as an episodic narrative. Each individual episode discusses the life of different women, but altogether the arc of the greater story conveys a bildungsroman with the common thread that men force women to age.


  • Becca, I actually didn’t think of the book as an episodic narrative. Looking back, especially in the way we refer to each major section as an “arc”, it makes sense to consider each story an “episode”. I think about it as a series like Dear White People, where characters have their own story to tell within a greater framework. Thank you for that point!

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 7th, 2017 at 1:59 am

    “Episodic” struck me, too, as an apt descriptor in many ways, Becca and Elaine. Becca, what did you learn from this valiant attempt to find the right descriptor (if there is a single one) for _Cane_?

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