Themes and Meanings
“Blood-Burning Moon” brings together key thematic motifs from the earlier stories in Cane. Like the others, it focuses on a woman as sex object, controlled by men but at the same time exerting a powerful force over them that transcends the normal social barriers of the South at the time. The story thus addresses, too, the sexual relationship between black and white, which Toomer also examines in “Becky” (about a white woman with two black sons) and “Fern” (whose heroine, Fernie May Rosen, has a black mother and a white Jewish father). It therefore adds an extra dimension to Toomer’s focus in much of the book on what he regards as a southern conspiracy to ignore the reality of miscegenation. In sum, the bigotry that pervades both blacks and whites in rural Georgia creates barriers to normal interpersonal relationships, exaggerates the tensions present in any evolving society, and ultimately results in sexual repression. Toomer presents the blacks, however, as having a firmer cultural basis than the whites do. Though they are not at all primitives in the conventional sense, the blacks who work in the fields are close to nature. In “Fern,” the narrator says, “When one is on the soil of one’s ancestors, most anything can come to one.” The title “Blood-Burning Moon” and the folk song from whose refrain it comes emphasize this kinship and its spiritual and emotional significance. A third motif, which is important throughout Cane, is the economic situation—symbolized in large part by the cane of the title—in which the races are interdependent at the same time that they are rivals. In “Blood-Burning Moon,” the cane is both reality and symbol in a more central way here than elsewhere in the book. It is a means of livelihood for both blacks and whites, for the decaying cotton factory is evidence that the old economic support is fading, and the smell of the cane pervades the town.