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Cane (New Edition) Paperback – June 13, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“By far the most impressive product of the Negro Renaissance, Cane ranks with Richard Wright's and Ralph Ellison's as a measure of the Negro novelist's highest achievement. Jean Toomer belongs to that first rank of writers who use words almost as a plastic medium, shaping new meanings from an original and highly personal style.”

About the Author

Jean Toomer (1894–1967) was born in Washington, D.C., the son of educated blacks of Creole stock. Literature was his first love and he regularly contributed avant garde poetry and short stories to such magazines as Dial, Broom, Secession, Double Dealer, and Little Review. After a literary apprenticeship in New York, Toomer taught school in rural Georgia. His experiences there led to the writing of Cane.

Rudolph P. Byrd (Ph.D. Yale University) is the Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts and the Department of African American Studies and the founding director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies at Emory University. He is the author and editor of ten books, including Jean Toomer’s Years with Gurdjieff; Essentials by Jean Toomer with Charles Johnson; Charles Johnson’s Novels: Writing the American Palimpsest; The Essential Writings of James Weldon Johnson; and with Alice Walker The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker. Among Professor Byrd’s awards and fellowships are an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at Harvard University; Visiting Scholar at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center; and the Thomas Jefferson Award from Emory University. He is a founding officer of the Alice Walker Literary Society.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Ph.D.Cambridge), is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, Harvard University. He is the author of Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513–2008; Black in Latin America; Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora; Faces of America; Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Criticism; Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars; Colored People: A Memoir; The Future of Race with Cornel West; Wonders of the African World; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. His is also the writer, producer, and narrator of PBS documentaries Finding Your Roots; Black in Latin America; Faces of America; African American Lives 1 and 2; Looking for Lincoln; America Beyond the Color Line; and Wonders of the African World. He is the editor of African American National Biography with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and The Dictionary of African Biography with Anthony Appiah; Encyclopedia Africana with Anthony Appiah; and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, as well as editor-in-chief of

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; New Edition edition (June 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871402106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871402103
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 80 people found the following review helpful By "claremonde99" on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Written in Post-Emancipation America, Jean Toomer's novel Cane represented a strong voice within the African-American community during an era where segregation was a way of life, and lynching was (in some areas of the country) an accepted means to an end. A conglomeration of images and metaphors, Cane is honestly a difficult text to read and should not be considered merely as an "easy" set of poems, prose, and stories. There are many intricate layers of meaning within the phrasing and style of writing. The title is a double meaning in itself. Upon hearing the title, one may think that it refers to the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. This is an important aspect since some religious Christian followers interpreted the "mark" of Cain as blackness, therefore using religion as propaganda for pro-slavery agendas. In addition, readers who are more conscious minded to the dynamics of the early 1900's concerning race relations, and its history (specifically in the South) would find this text less confusing. Some sections, which stand out within the text, are "Becky", "Song of Son", and "Blood Red Harvest".
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Alice Walker once said of Cane that she "could not possibly exist without it." I feel the same way. This is the most glorious, complex, heartwrenchingly beautiful collection of poems and prose that I have ever encountered. Toomer was a lyrical, insightful writer. He was someone who understood and could convey pain. Whatever racial classification people may settle upon, it is clear that Toomer was influenced by the black experience in the U.S. -- Cane reads like jazz sometimes, like blues at other times, and every once in awhile like gospel; in any case it is musical, rhythmic, and it gets to your soul.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on February 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
Written back in 1923, CANE is one of the touchstones of African-American writing. Jean Toomer, despite his rather uncertain relationship with the African side of his ancestry, must be recognized as a founder. That said, this is a pale, difficult book, wandering sadly through the tempest-tossed fortunes of African-American life in the first decades of the 20th century. CANE is not for the casual reader, nor for those who want to be fed meaning. You must reflect, add to the text from your own knowledge and experience. The characters appear in pale colors, dressed in weariness and often verging on madness. Blue saxophone tones amidst the fogs of prejudice and blind hatred for all intelligent behavior by a despised minority. What more could a gentle man, human and tender, make of such craziness ? Poetry, broken images that pass slowly, pale by smoke, pale by moonlight, whisper of yellow globes, and decline of that distant hope that someday "they" would learn. Part of this book is poetry, part is prose, and part a strange play about a man named Kabnis ("Sinbad ?) who seems an unlikely traveller on life's roads. It is not a novel in any usual sense of the word, since it is made up of completely disparate parts with no connection other than that they describe the vicissitudes of African-American life in the South and in Washington DC. Plot is absent, as is continuity. This is a volume of ashen portraits, not much flattering. This is a volume worth more for its history than for its literary merit, yet it will touch you if you let it.
Not yet published were the forthright descriptions and defiance of Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, and many others. The bold fulminations of Malcolm, the brilliant oratory of King---not even dreamt of.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By K. R. Graham on September 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
There appear to be several tangled threads in CANE that join the three parts of the book together. The first thread unifying the collection of poetry and prose is the way it was put together. In book one you have the narrator observing rural negroes in the south. In book two you have the narrator express-ing the discontent of urban negroes. Then, in book three, you have old Kabnis, a northern negro, trying to escape his pain by returning to his roots in rural Georgia. Coming full-circle. And yet not. Part Two should come first, with its discontented youth, then "Kabnis", then Part One. Why does Toomer choose to progress from spiritual unity to disunity? Is it because the book truly represents a cycle which has no beginning and no end? A clue to this is in two poems, "Reapers" and "Harvest Song". Both are written on related topics, and yet "Reapers" is the first poem of the book, and "Harvest Song" the last. In "Reapers" a rat is injured by a scythe, and yet "the blade, blooded-stained, continues cutting weeds and shade" oblivious to or uncaring of the rat's injuries and pain. In "Harvest Song" the narrator is a reaper who, at the end of the day, with his work still unfinshed, fears his own hunger so much that he distracts himself with pain, "...My pain is sweet...It will not bring me knowledge of my hunger." What, exactly, is it that Toomer's characters hunger for?

Another thread appears to me to be the striving for unity. This desire for unity is expressed in the ways in which the men and women in CANE strive toward unity in their relation-ships. Admittedly, they fail miserably. The women in the book are terribly one-sided--sex objects that are either passive, as with Karintha and Fern and Avey, or active, as with Carma and Louisa and Bona.
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