Why is Jean Toomer's Cane such an important novel signaling the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance?
Cane was published in 1923 in the midst of literary modernism. Modernist writers such as Joyce, Stein, Anderson, Frank and artists such as Stieglitz and O'Keefe espoused the "make it new" agenda, choosing contemporary settings and themes as well as seeking inspiration across the boundaries of different art expressions. In this context, Cane represents an important addition as it adds a black voice and dimension to modernity. It also develops modernism's attention for characters' psychology and adds a distinctive focus on race relations and conflicts. On the level of form, the book, though often defined as a novel, embodies the modernist principle of fragmentation, as different genres such as poems and short-stories and point of views are brought together.
Cane had a considerable influence on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance as it was one of the first literary expressions of interest in African American/Mulatto life in America to receive critical praise and attention. Although it was not a commericial success, Toomer's Cane set the agenda for black writers to record and analyse their cultural tradition.