72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unspoken Masterpiece
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...
Published on January 14, 2000 by claremonde99
41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To catch thy plaintive soul, soon gone"
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...
Published on February 28, 2002 by Bob Newman
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unspoken Masterpiece,
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".
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cane is my favorite book, ever,
By A Customer
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.
41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To catch thy plaintive soul, soon gone",
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. Toomer asks---but through a mist of poetic images, through the circuitous meanderings of the oppressed---what have we done to deserve this fate? Who am I ? No firebrand he. "Wish that I might fly out past the moon/ And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower." This is hardly rebellion. But he wrote, he dared that. From our so-privileged vantage point of eight decades into the future shall we challenge him, shall we scorn him ? Let's praise him, for he began the trickle that turned into a mighty flood.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conflicted and Lyrical,
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. However, for all their being available physically, the females Toomer portrays in his cameos are untouchable or out of reach spiritually. The men are also one-sided--rational and yet passionate, often overcome by lust and rage. These probably function to demonstrate Toomer's personal views on what men and women are, and how their desires for unity in healthy relation-ships produces a significant amount of pain as a result of their oppositeness.
Pain is yet another thread that unifies the poetry, sketches, stories and drama of CANE. After all is experienced, the pain is what is left, the only significant fruit of their struggles. In Part One, the pain everyone suffers seems to be symbolized by the ever-present cane. The cane, which can cut the skin, must be ground, the juice boiled and cooled, in order to obtain it sweetness. Is the pain which the characters savor the sweetness in their lives? And if so, wouldn't the cane also represent the sweetness (pain) in their lives? In Part Two, which takes place in the urban North, the Negroes live repressed, frustrated, and sadly warped lives. The pain is intellectualized, yet it is still there, doubly so. Is this a result of being separated from the soil--that which is perceived to be source of their spirituality--as well as their failure to form meaningful relationships? The pain in "Kabnis" is more incoherent, the pain of an urban negro who has returned to his roots only to find that he cannot accept them, is alienated by them.
It is impossible to discuss all of the tangled threads that weave CANE into the powerfully moving and unorthodox novel of Toomer's voyage of self-discovery. It is often incoherent, filled with evocative recurrent images, and powerful character sketches that leave the reader unfulfilled, confused, and hungry for more. Perhaps it is Toomer's own hunger, expressed in his writing, that the reader picks up. If there was more to the novel, perhaps one could pin down the more elusive points. Then again, perhaps not.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jean Toomer and the Romance of language,
By A Customer
I read Cane for the first time when I was a Freshman in college. I believe that it was the first time that I'd noticed how beautiful it is when the energy of poetry is fused with prose fiction. Particularly interesting is the fact that, while Toomer wrote a deep portrayal of the issues of race in America at that time, he functioned more as an anthropologist than an insider for, while he was black, he was descended from the socially detached black middle class and had to learn about most aspects of black culture through observation rather than experience. This makes the work that much more powerful. I especially loved to read "Blood Burning Moon", a story about the fatal competition between a black and white man for the affections of a young, alluring black woman. All in all, Cane is not to be missed by anyone who digs poetry/prose fusion or anyone who loves the romance of language.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult (2.5 stars),
I write this review with the realization that it is likely to be unpopular, nevertheless, I found the book to be very trying. While I can appreciate the modernist approach which was employed years before its time, the experimental nature of the writing had my head spinning. The text itself is a mixed bag that includes not only prose, but poetry and drama as well. Toomer insisted on these pieces being put together to form a novel, but I cannot help but feel many of the inclusions would have faired better standing alone. In my particular reading experience, I found that many of the pieces do not interlock or even coincide, which produces a sort of start-and-stop reading ordeal. There is simply no fluidity in the text.
Toomer was of mixed heritage, so the book is rife with ambivalence and a proverbial tug-of-war between "light and dark." It has been pointed out that Toomer was very much influenced by Picasso's cubism and worked to recreate this in his literature. As far as I know, Toomer and Gertrude Stein are the only two to have done this, and the effect is arrantly vertiginous in both cases.
In literary circles, this book is considered a must-read in African-American literature, and for that reason, it should be read and contemplated. However, if you are looking for leisure reading, I would suggest something else. The book is only 112 pages long, but I found that it somehow seemed rather "Victorian" in length. It is by no means fast.
In defense of the book, I think my problem with it is a result of preferring prose over poetry and drama. If you are a reader that likes all genres equally, you may find this considerably more enjoyable.
Suggested Af/Am Lit: Wright's Black Boy, Morrison's Song of Solomon, Ellison's Invisible Man, Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition, and Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful little book with great insight,
This is perhaps one of my favorite works of literature I've ever read. This piece of literature uses poetry and short stories to portray the vast experiences of Afican-Americans in America. This novel (of sorts) opens your eyes and does so subtly and beautifully through various characters and the experiences they go through or fight against. Although written over fify years ago, Toomer's work relates well to the problems/concerns of race in America today. I feel this should be a required work in studying Modern American Literature and the African-American Experience. If there is a firm "canon" ever established, this should be included.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Again,
This review is from: Cane (New Edition) (Paperback)
Just a few words are available to me because there has been some time since my first reading of Toomer's work and this review. Cane, as I remember it, is odd and beautiful. Portions of poetic text are offered at strange times in unwieldy fashion. The need to go back and re-read to follow a thread is almost constant. If you are a reader and lover of simple things pass this piece: Leave it. However if you don't mind a little work and a lot of reward pick it up, read it, take its beauty to heart and treasure it. I am about to go through it again. I am about to be reminded that there is poetry in this world. I am about to be disturbed. On my next reading I hope to be as lost as on my first; I hope that leads me to read it again.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Musical Masterpiece of Modernism,
This review is from: Cane (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
Forgive the pseudo-pretentious title, but I have been terribly enamored with this work for quite some time. I originally read this work in a course on literary modernism and have since re-approached the work two or three times. Toomer's novel deals explicitly with the intersection of race and sexuality. It can be quite graphic--what the novel suggests is more visceral than any of its literal depictions. While it is a collection of short stories, I've rarely encountered a compilation text that is so united and which flows with such unrivaled grace. The novel possesses a sort of dark music that becomes ingrained in your mind. You can almost here the melodies of the slave songs that litter Toomer's stories. It is a symphonic work of idiosyncratic experimentation, but the work is unique among modernist texts insofar as it explores both the realms of culture and consciousness with a sense of equality: neither is forsaken for the other subject. I believe it should be required reading for any student of literature, and I certainly hope that its audience continues to grow.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth through Words,
Women play a dramatic role throughout Jean Toomer's eyebrow raising novel, Cane. In Cane, Toomer depicts the lives of many women who are misunderstood by the world around them. Through each dramatic story we are introduced to different characters that all tell a story, a story that spells out the racism and virtual element of sadness that has overcome Georgia and everything in it's path. Cane is not only a novel, but also a learning lesson of the changing times and real true to life struggles that innocent victims had to endure. After experiencing cane, we are introduced to another world that we have never known, forever changing our mindset of the world around us. Not only was Cane a dramatic learning tool, but also an irreplaceable piece of literature that will forever remain in our thoughts and our minds generation after generation touching each reader that is lucky enough to have inhaled it's beauty. One of Cane's greatest acheivements is in the way you have to find the beauty within each character through understanding Georgia's mindset. Toomer truly challenges our minds to relate to each and every character, be it man or woman, and understand and appreciate each and every struggle and hardship, and once we can feel their pain we too have a little purple in our hearts.
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Cane (New Edition) by Jean Toomer (Paperback - June 13, 2011)