Cane Essay - Critical Evaluation

Jean Toomer

Critical Evaluation

Cane is a collection of stories, poems, and sketches in three sections. Cane appeared in 1923, receiving favorable reviews although it was not widely read. Rediscovered during the 1960’s, it has become one of the best-known and most respected African American works. Oddly, Jean Toomer was only a fraction African American; his ancestry was so mixed that some laws considered him white.

Cane is important in African American literature no matter what Toomer’s ethnic background was because it describes the black Southern rural experience, the black Northern urban experience, and intellectuals’ attempts to understand the connection between the two. It also uses experimental techniques to portray traditional experiences.

The first section, set in rural and small-town Georgia, contains stories about women and men’s attraction to them. The poems generally concern workers and landscape and often describe farm labor. Other poems in the first section are portraits. “Face” is a word picture of an old, sorrow-filled woman. “Portrait in Georgia” uses lynching imagery to describe a woman: “Hair—braided chestnut,/ coiled like a lyncher’s rope. . . .” “Nullo” is a portrait of rural Georgia, describing pine needles falling.

Three poems do not fit in any of these categories: In “Song of the Son,” the narrator realizes that all former slaves will soon be dead, but he will sing their song, as a tree grows from a seed; in “Evening Sun,” the narrator speaks of love at nightfall; “Conversion” describes negatively Africans’ conversion to Christianity in the Americas.

The second section, set in cities, primarily Washington, D.C., contains poetry, short stories, and cryptic word sketches. Many...

(The entire section is 729 words.)