Blood-Burning Moon Summary
by Jean Toomer

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Blood-Burning Moon Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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: gentle and withdrawn, unable to speak. He grins and begins to move on, but she prompts him (“You all want me, Tom? . . . You wanted to say something?”), and he bursts forth with a confession of his love and his hopes (including having his own farm, “if ole Stone’ll trust me,” and “silk stockings an purple dresses” for Louisa), but he also wants reassurance: “Bob Stone likes y. Course he does. But not the way folks is awhisperin. Does he, hon?” She feigns ignorance (“I dont know what you mean, Tom”) but asks what he would do if the rumors were true. “Cut him,” he replies, “jes like I cut a nigger . . . already cut two.” Then, hand in hand, the two walk off to make love in the canebrake.

Bob Stone, meanwhile, also is thinking of Louisa; he regrets, too, the passing of the old order, when as a white master he could have gone into the house and taken Louisa (“Direct, honest, bold”) without sneaking about as he now must do. He also speculates about how his mother, sister, and friends up north would react if they knew about him and Louisa, whom he considers “lovely—in her . . . Nigger way.” Unable to articulate even to himself what he means by “Nigger way,” he wonders if “Nigger was something . . . to be afraid of, more?” Though he rejects the idea, it leads him to think of Tom Burwell and that “Cartwell had told him that Tom went with Louisa after she reached home,” but he refuses to believe this. Stone’s reaction, therefore, precisely matches Burwell’s, even including a threat...

(The entire section is 1,804 words.)