Style and Technique
Widely recognized as one of the foremost literary works of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, Cane is a collection of stories, sketches, and poems that emerged from Toomer’s experience as temporary head of a school for blacks in Georgia. The poems, which appear within the stories and between them, are in a variety of forms, though most are folk songs or ballads. As in “Blood-Burning Moon,” they provide substantive reinforcement to the action and themes of the prose pieces but serve primarily to enhance the pervasive wistful and mournful tone. They also heighten the impressionistic quality of the book, for though Toomer writes about real social problems and his characters are believable, he is not only a realist. The lynching of Tom Burwell, portrayed in a deliberately ritualistic manner, thus is appropriate both stylistically and symbolically.
Because of the impressionistic style and technique of Cane and for other reasons, the book recalls Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). For example, both books have narrators who serve as mediator between author and reader, both are collections of prose cameos, and both have characters that can be labeled “grotesques,” in Toomer’s case because of the lingering social and psychological effects of slavery. Finally, though its subject matter may recall the naturalist movement, the style and technique of “Blood-Burning Moon” and Cane as a whole link it more directly to a later period, in which myth and symbol would be dominant in American fiction.