Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Harlem Renaissance
During the 1920s, Harlem, a section of New York City, became the largest African-American urban area in...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Set in an unnamed town in the American South during the early part of the twentieth century, ‘‘Blood- Burning...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1922: Abie’s Irish Rose, a play about a racially mixed marriage is performed 2,532 times on Broadway—a record at the time....

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Investigate the resurgence of lynchings in the South during the 1920s and explain why or why not Tom’s lynching is representative of what...

(The entire section is 109 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Cane by Jean Toomer (1923) is the book that includes ‘‘Blood-Burning Moon.’’ In addition to short stories, the collection...

(The entire section is 182 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Baker, Houston A., Jr. ‘‘Journey Toward Black Art: Jean Toomer’s Cane,’’ in his Singers of Daybreak:...

(The entire section is 221 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Benson, Joseph, and Mabel Mayle Dillard. Jean Toomer. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Byrd, Rudolph P. “Jean Toomer and the Writers of the Harlem Renaissance: Was He There with Them?” In The Harlem Renaissance: Revaluations, edited by Amritjit Singh, William S. Shiver, and Stanley Brodwin. New York: Garland, 1989.

Fabre, Geneviève, and Michel Feith, eds. Jean Toomer and the Harlem Renaissance. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Ford, Karen Jackson. Split-Gut Song: Jean Toomer and the Poetics of Modernity. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.

Hajek, Friederike. “The Change of Literary Authority in the Harlem Renaissance: Jean Toomer’s Cane.” In The Black Columbiad: Defining Moments in African American Literature and Culture, edited by Werner Sollos and Maria Diedrich. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Kerman, Cynthia. The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

O’Daniel, Therman B., ed. Jean Toomer: A Critical Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1988.

Scruggs, Charles, and Lee VanDemarr. Jean Toomer and the Terrors of American History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. “Toomer’s Cane as Narrative Sequence.” In Modern American Short Story Sequences, edited by J. Gerald Kennedy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995.