Cane is a haunting, lyrical book, one of the most influential works ever written by an African-American artist. Critics wrote of the book, when it was published in 1923, that it would endure for generations, that it heralded the advent of a new class of artist, the black intellectual. The book is in fact considered to be a leading influence on the Harlem Renaissance a period of time in the 1920s and 1930s when there was a flourishing of creativity in the black community and white society became interested in the artistry produced by writers, painters, and musicians associated with the Harlem area of New York. The book's experiments with form brought respect from people around the world for its characters, including rural Negroes who acted from habit and superstition; women who were treated as objects in a culture that itself was struggling with its history of having been slaves; and intellectuals who sought to reconcile their love of their own race with the degradation in which they were forced to live.
One of the most fascinating aspects about Cane is what it failed to accomplish. Despite the glowing praise and anticipation of reviewers, the book only ended up selling two thousand copies. Jean Toomer, who was of mixed blood, decided to stop writing about the black experience, and he had a difficult time publishing works on other subjects. By 1930 he was no longer the promising new literary star, but a literary has-been, only occasionally publishing poems and reviews. He lived for almost forty more years in obscurity. It was not until a new edition of Cane came out during the 1960s that the world realized what a stunning achievement the book represents, and it has been in print since then.