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Cane

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,776 Ratings  ·  284 Reviews
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt str ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 17th 1993 by Liveright (first published January 1st 1923)
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Mallory This book has some subtle sexual content. Several prostitutes and escorts are alluded to throughout the stories. There is also a decent amount of…moreThis book has some subtle sexual content. Several prostitutes and escorts are alluded to throughout the stories. There is also a decent amount of violence in the form of lynchings in the third section of the book, always told as retrospective stories by the characters.

I think, in essence, the theme of the book has to do with boundaries. Black vs. White, Sexuality vs. Chastity, North vs. South, Urban vs. Rural, Religion vs. Secularism, Male vs. Female.

Jean Toomer was bi-racial and raised by the black side of his family in Washington, DC. He was educated before going to Georgia to be a principal. Shortly after this book was published, he began 'passing' as white. Knowing these things about the author, I think, make for reading his interpretations of boundaries more interesting. (less)
The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
67th out of 621 books — 791 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 1920's
83rd out of 381 books — 864 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Michael
Powerful and poetic vignettes of blacks in rural Georgia and immigrants to the Washington D.C. area near the turn of the 20th century. We feel their daily integration with their mind-numbing, dusty work in the cane fields or saw mills and feel their struggle against internalized forms of racism and sexism. In the urban environment, we feel their mix of hopes for promised freedom and of their alienation and despair of continual poverty. Some find a connection in churches to the values from their ...more
Janet
Jan 29, 2015 Janet rated it it was amazing
An astonishingly beautiful, sensual, lyrical, formally experimental book. In character vignettes of one, two, three pages interleaved with short poems, Toomer explores the lives of black people, mostly in the rural south, specifically a tiny hamlet dominated by a sawmill (marked mostly by smells and sounds), sugar cane fields and pines, the timeseason--autumn, the time, dusk. In fact, every story in this collection could be called 'Dusk'--with all its overtones. Though largely rural, a couple of ...more
Andrew
This was a thoroughly strange and surreal book, made all the more surreal by the fact that it was one of the first avant-garde black American novels. Toomer's world explodes with color and light, with shades of Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. If there is a document of American magical realism, this is it.

It's too easy when describing the rural black South to rely on stereotypes and minstrelsy (Zora Neale Hurston, I'm looking at you). Toomer, to his credit, doesn't, at all. His world is too damn
...more
Whitney
I enjoyed this. I really think everyone should read at least a couple of poems from this book. Or some of the short stories. My favorite was "Bona and Paul."

Now it's time to write my english paper on this.... :/
Elisa Berry
Mar 17, 2008 Elisa Berry rated it it was amazing
This one is a gem; the writing is gorgeous, the stories absorbing. P-thought of you, this is a definite genre bender with episodic chapters/short stories and poetry, always referred to as a novel. Toomer is often grouped with the Harlem Renaissance and the stories center on the reverse migration of a urban Northern man to the rural South. However, Toomer never worked with black themes again and did not consider himself part of that community. As such the book exhibits a fractured experience and ...more
Ken
Jul 12, 2008 Ken rated it really liked it
Though not as well known as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer is considered one of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance and this collection of short stories and poems is his best work. Published in the early 20's, it shows the influence of many writers of that period who were especially fascinated with the technique of repetition -- sentences, clauses, phrases, words, you name it. It's a tricky skill, as repetition can be both effective and annoying. Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, in ...more
Maureen
Sep 30, 2015 Maureen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Toomer had an interesting pedigree: he was considered a Northerner by many Southerners, and a Southerner by many Northerners. This was in part because both of his grandmothers were left plantations by white men, making them among the most prosperous citizens in the dirt poor communities around Sparta, Georgia. Toomer spent some summers with his grandmothers during childhood and even was the principal of a school in Sparta for a short time before leaving for Paris.

From this perspective, he wrote
...more
Kathleen Hulser
Jul 17, 2016 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it
Cane, pine, Jesus, shades of dusky skin, red dirt tornadoes on a back road. Toomer tunnels through the psyche of pine forested Georgia: shacks collapse on the tracks, preachers' burning words hang on a hot breeze. "Karintha at twelve was a wild flash that told the other folks just what it was to live."

Toomer lingers over backwoods glimpses of honey-lipped love, his lovers fired with moonshine, serenaded by buzzing bees. All nature is part of the dense weave of sexuality, where knotty muscles un
...more
Castor Luwian
Jun 05, 2015 Castor Luwian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It has a potency and immediacy to it. It's very vibrant, lyrical, and pungent. On the one hand there is the theme of a rupturing racial identity, and on the other an aspiration to transcend race. Sometimes it falls into internal racial conflict, where the protagonist is at war with his own identity. And sometimes it seems to lift off, so to speak, in poetical flight, in a soulful manner, beyond the social definitions and barriers of race, in poetry, in spirit.

There is
...more
Travelling Sunny
Gorgeous, insightful poetry mixed in with short micro-stories that combine to create a rich impression of life for black folks in the south after the Reconstruction.

The last third of the book was comprised of a single story line that I just couldn't quite connect to. But, the first two-thirds was brilliant. And I typically don't even like poetry.
Bam
#2016-usa-geography-challenge: GEORGIA

Published in 1923 during 'The Harlem Renaissance,' this slim volume is a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems in the modernist style of that era, expressing 'the pain and beauty of the South.' The first group is set in rural Georgia, the second in Washington DC and Chicago and the last story (part three) entitled 'Kabnis' appears to be somewhat autobiographical--about a northern black man who moves to Georgia to teach in the turbulent times of se
...more
Caroline
Feb 16, 2016 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And that big fat afterword, a big fat plus.
No Books
Un capolavoro assoluto, un'opera unica in quello che forse fu il decennio d'oro della narrativa statunitense; qui pubblicato in un'ottima edizione.
Dicono sia fuori catalogo; ma se vi capita di averlo per le mani (biblioteche, bancarelle, prestiti, furti...) questo è un libro che vale assolutamente la pena di leggere.

Nathan Eugene "Jean" Toomer, nipote per parte di madre del primo governatore di colore della Louisiana (che guardacaso fino a quel punto si era dichiarato bianco), passò infanzia e g
...more
Mark
Jun 11, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's so difficult to categorize Cane. For the sake of convenience, one could call it a novel, and that is generally how the work is treated. But novel really neither describes the book accurately nor does it justice. Cane is an incantory combination of poetry and prose, vignettes that are loosely held together by the common theme of black American life in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century. But the prose is highly poetic:

"Pine needles, like mazda, are brilliantly aglow. No rain
...more
Pierce
May 05, 2009 Pierce rated it really liked it
Mairin gave me this after I expressed some tiredness with the lack of artistry in some of what I've been reading lately. And yes, it was very powerfully and beautifully written.

Harlem Renaissance is a new area for me. There's this wonderful naturalness and earthiness to the writing. It's odd, because my first thought was that these people are not of this land, and have been forcibly located here only a few generations earlier, and yet there is a deep harmony with the place they occupy, if not t
...more
Emilie
"Some critics called the book a novel, some called it a prose poem, some did not know what to call it; but all agreed that Cane was origional" Alice Walker, quoted in Cane page 261

That's pretty much all I can say about this book. And it's said by someone else. I went ahead and borrowed it at the library because I had a lot of books on my "borrow-at-the-library" list. I went on Random.org and this was the book randomly chosen for me.

It was an interesting read, but I could have skipped all the ext
...more
John
Dec 01, 2008 John rated it liked it
Cane is a mixture of verse, prose, and drama, making it a challenging collection to read. Most of Toomer's pieces are set in the South, though he also writes about Chicago and D. C. Toomer's focus in this collection was on alienation - between races, sexes, and largely any two people who happen to come together. The stories and poems reflect much of the alienation Toomer felt as an African-American who was light-skinned enough to pass for white, but also the alienation of African-Americans from ...more
Abby
“Cane” blew me away. Southern literature, in my opinion, contains some of the most powerful and immortal books in the American literary canon. The dark, enchanted history of the South brings forth ample material for colorful characters and complex social issues. Novels born in the South are born out of and into its troubled past–a landscape fraught with the difficult union of charmed myth and bloody reality. Toomer taps into the tragic legacy of slavery to write one of the best, most enduring no ...more
Elizabeth
Dec 07, 2015 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Read for global modernism class. The style was interesting and I think that is why I read it so quickly. You get multiple stories in one book.
Lara
Aug 04, 2007 Lara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I read this for the first time as an undergrad. It didn't appeal to me then, but this time 'round, things were a bit more clear. I think that the most important issue this novel touches is that of identity. For Toomer himself, this was a huge problem. We see this come to the surface in many (if not all) of his character sketches.

The jagged style of writing is a bit confusing for many, but for your students, relate it to the movements of jazz music and the lights turn on.

This is a stunning exampl
...more
anne
I only ended up reading "Cane," not the reviews and criticisms (except for the intro and the first essay, which i think was an intro to an early edition), though I'd like to go back and read them sometime. I definitely had a fuller view of the work's context from the little I did read about Toomer's life and ideas. With or without the essays, a beautiful and interesting book (these words seem too totally positive for conveying the complexity of the book and its depictions and examinations of str ...more
Benny Morduchowitz
Apr 03, 2014 Benny Morduchowitz rated it liked it
This book is fascinating, poignant and extremely well composed.

The thing is, it was composed in a fairly atypical, very fragmented and disjointed fashion. There are pages that are utter dynamite and completely hook you, but there are others that are dry and purely symbolic imagery.

I don't mind fragmented, but there is simply not enough compelling connective tissue in this work that allowed me to appreciate it as much as I would have liked.

I can totally see how it's a classic work, it's just not
...more
Matt
Apr 12, 2009 Matt rated it really liked it
Beautiful, lyrical, complex, maddening, amazing. You feel like you can taste the dust, the blood, and the music of the rural South after reading it. This is one of the "masterpieces" of the Harlem Renaissance. The interesting metaphor of "dusk" recurs in parallel with the northward migration of blacks during Reconstruction and the loss of indigenous life and music. This book is experimental in terms of genre-blending (including poetry, short story, factual narrative, etc.) in way that gets one t ...more
Nascha
An unforgettable gem from the Harlem Renaissance era. Breathtakingly beautiful in his descriptions, Toomer broke the boundaries of the traditional novel or book at that time by including vignettes, poetry and a play within this book. Toomer is one of the best writers of that era but not as well known. This book is still touted in literary circles and influences some of the great writers of our time, including Toni Morrison. I highly recommend it.
Courtney H.
Mar 09, 2015 Courtney H. rated it it was amazing
Toomer has a mastery of language, and particularly that space where language slips between prose and poetry, that few can match. His prose--both where it is straight storytelling and where he tends toward playwright styling--and his poetry are gorgeous. But always he keeps you off balance. No sooner can you fall into the cadence of something--a story, a poem, a set of dialogue within one of his vignettes--than he pushes you out of the nest, into another style. So, too, does he throw you off with ...more
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
Geezus... that was a rush. In his first and only work Jean Toomer shows the reader, through surreal metaphors and dense poetic language, a complex picture of race in America with a focus on the South. The existential crisis of American Blacks as illustrated by Toomer reaches a fever pitch in the last story, 'Kabnis', the story of a black educator from the North who travels to the South, where his position in the institution he works at is revoked from him by Hanby, the school's 'genteel' headmas ...more
Andrew Fairweather
Feb 23, 2015 Andrew Fairweather rated it liked it
Geezus... that was a rush. In his first and only work Jean Toomer shows the reader, through surreal metaphors and dense poetic language, a complex picture of race in America with a focus on the South. The existential crisis of American Blacks as illustrated by Toomer reaches a fever pitch in the last story, 'Kabnis', the story of a black educator from the North who travels to the South, where his position in the institution he works at is revoked from him by Hanby, the school's 'genteel' headmas ...more
Christopher Sutch
Oct 04, 2014 Christopher Sutch rated it it was amazing
Jean Toomer's vivid, original poetic imagery, and the genius he displays in how he shaped and arranged the materials (short stories, poems, drama) that make up this brilliant avant-garde novel still blow my mind twenty years after I first read it. Looking back at this work nearly 100 years after its first publication, you can see the affect of modernism on Toomer's text; he clearly had been influenced by Joyce's early work, but he anticipates some of Faulkner's, Hemingway's, and Dos Passos's for ...more
Katie
Jan 21, 2015 Katie rated it it was amazing
More like 4 1/2 stars, but I'll round up just because I haven't rated any books 5 stars this year yet.

Jean Toomer's Cane really is a "literary masterpiece." I was in awe of his style and form, how he utilizes devices we associate with theater in a novel. I also loved the comparison of the North vs. the South, especially embodied in the last short story, "Kabnis."

I've got to say "The Box Seat" is my favorite story, though, followed closely by "Bona and Paul."

LOVE the Harlem Renaissance!!!
Angie
Jun 08, 2016 Angie rated it really liked it
Major Fields Prep: 20/133
Toomer's experimental text juxtaposes together short fiction, poetry, and drama in small vignettes divided into three sections. The first section loosely centers around rural Georgia and the short narratives mainly revolve around black women's experience and narration. The second section is more masculine and relocates the text in Washington D.C. The third section, and longest individual story (originally composed to be a stage play) follows Ralph Kabnis whose fear of ly
...more
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USA Geography Cha...: Cane by Jean Toomer 1 1 Mar 17, 2016 02:47PM  
  • The New Negro
  • Home to Harlem
  • Black No More
  • The Norton Anthology of African American Literature
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  • Maud Martha
  • Mumbo Jumbo
  • Uncle Tom's Children
  • Corregidora
  • Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral
  • Why Write?
  • The Ways of White Folks
  • Selected Poems
  • The Complete Stories
  • The Blacker the Berry...
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • The Springs of Affection
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
25096
Jean Toomer (December 26, 1894 – March 30, 1967) was an American poet and novelist and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and modernism. His first book Cane, published in 1923, is considered by many to be his most significant. Of mixed race and majority European ancestry, Toomer struggled to identify as "an American" and resisted efforts to classify him as a black writer.

He continued to
...more
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