The last of six prose pieces in the first part of the cycle of poems and stories entitled Cane (1923), about young black women, “Blood-Burning Moon” is the tragic story of Louisa and her two lovers, a white and a black; its action occurs in a small factory town and the surrounding sugarcane fields in rural Georgia early in the 1920’s.
Louisa works in the kitchens of the Stones, a leading white family of the community, and young Bob Stone loves her; as the narrator says, “By the measure of that warm glow which came into her mind at the thought of him, he had won her.” Tom Burwell, called “Big Boy” by everyone, also loves her, but because he works in the fields all day, he cannot spend as much time with Louisa as Bob Stone can. Further, even at night, when he does come to her, “Strong as he was with hands upon the ax or plow,” he finds it difficult to hold her. Both men, for different reasons, have problems communicating their feelings to her. Louisa’s attitude toward the pair is ambivalent; Tom’s “black balanced, and pulled against, the white of Stone, when she thought of them.” On the night that the action takes place, Louisa is scheduled to meet Stone in the canebrake. There is a full moon that, rising from the dusk, lights the great door of the antebellum cotton factory, an omen that the black women attempt to neutralize by means of a song: “Red nigger moon. Sinner!/ Blood-burning moon. Sinner!/ Come out that fact’ry door.”
Thus, in the first part of this story Jean Toomer not only introduces the players and sets the stage for a confrontation and its consequences but also introduces three primary themes: the conflict between the races, the economy that historically is a source of the problem, and the black woman as sex object.
The second section opens at a clearing on the edge of the cane forest where men grind and boil the cane stalks while listening to Old David Georgia chatter about “the white folks, about moonshining and cotton picking, and about sweet nigger gals.” When someone links Louisa with Bob Stone, Tom Burwell menacingly announces, “She’s my gal,” and threateningly brandishes a long knife, an action that foreshadows the pivotal confrontation to come. He then heads toward factory town, shuddering at the sight of the full moon and thinking about Louisa and Stone (“Better not be”). When he comes to Louisa’s place, however, he is a different person:...
(The entire section is 1003 words.)