Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*American South

*American South. Although Toomer lived in the South only for a brief period, the experience had connected him to his ancestral roots. He knew that his father was from the South even though he had never seen him. His poem “Song of the Son” expresses nostalgia for the past. Toomer seeks solidarity with his African heritage as he mentions “souls of slavery” and “cotton bales,” to record a way of life that was shared by his ancestors. The first part of his book includes prose sketches of southern women whose sexual lives provide a common thread despite their individual differences. For example, Fern is an attractive and available woman who leaves an impression on the males that she is “above them.” She becomes a metaphor of a fluid identity that transcends conventional constraints. She can call upon Jesus Christ and also sing like a Jewish cantor; in spite of their regional and racial divisions in lifestyles, all men are eager to please her. Toomer can imagine her in different settings—as a prostitute as well as the wife of a lawyer or a doctor.

*Washington, D.C

*Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States and the urban setting for the second part of Toomer’s book. In “Seventh Street,” Toomer’s imagery includes streetcar tracks and Cadillacs.


*Chicago. Great midwestern city that is the setting for the last story in Toomer’s book, “Bona and Paul,” which brings together a southern white and a northern African American in a transient relationship.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

An African-American family in front of their log cabin in North Carolina. The first third of the novel is devoted to the African-American experience in the Southern farmland. Published by Gale Cengage

The Harlem Renaissance
During the 1920s, the artistic scene among blacks in the Harlem section of New York City...

(The entire section is 991 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The narration of this book is uneven, changing from section to section, providing readers more with a...

(The entire section is 948 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Cane is classified as a novel for convenience, it actually is not. Its genre is difficult to define. It can best be described...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although it was written almost eighty years ago, Cane treats concerns that are still relevant today. Race relations in American...

(The entire section is 284 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As would be expected of any book treating the African-American experience, Jean Toomer's fictional work Cane portrays the problem of racism....

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • 1920s: The Ku Klux Klan, a post-Civil War terrorist organization that works to suppress blacks with threats,...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • Some critics have drawn a comparison between the views of Hanby in the "Kabnis" section of Cane and Booker T. Washington, an...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Cane is often credited for launching the movement among African-American writers that has become known as the Harlem Renaissance....

(The entire section is 160 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

After Cane, Toomer took a radically different approach to writing and perhaps to his views about his own identity as an African...

(The entire section is 95 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • Toomer's miscellaneous writings, including plays, letters, and reviews, have been collected in The Wayward and the Seeking,...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Benson, Brian Joseph, and Mabel Nayle Dillard. "Lifting the Veil." In Jean Toomer. Twayne Publishers,...

(The entire section is 228 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bone, Robert. Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Critical survey (1885-1935) that stresses the debts of black writers to an oral tradition that Bone calls a “blues aesthetic.” The chapter on Toomer reviews his entire career, including the important influences of Sherwood Anderson and Waldo Frank, and includes detailed analyses of three stories from Cane: “Fern,” “Theater,” and “Bona and Paul.”

Bone, Robert. The Negro Novel in America. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. Pioneering study of black writing from 1853 to the works...

(The entire section is 460 words.)