A centrepiece of the Harlem Renaissance, these indelible vignettes amass to a thorough masterpiece of lyric modernism.— Cam
Toomer's novel of Jim Crow America is...not quite a novel. Told in short character portraits, each vignette builds on the one before to create one living, breathing South. But it's not just the book's structure that defies definition: as you read, prose will transform to poetry, poetry will become song, and song will take on the gravity and finality of scripture.— Bekah
Reading Cane is like seeing a person’s whole life imprinted in an expression crossing their face as you pass them in the street. Toomer achieves this with a striking structure that employs poems, prose chapters, and song lyrics to build tales of life in the nineteen teens and early twenties, spanning from rural south up north, in overlapping vignettes which read like a lyrical anthropologist describing the neighbors with deep attention and love-care.— Tilghman
The Harlem Renaissance writer's innovative and groundbreaking novel depicting African American life in the South and North
Jean Toomer's Cane is one of the most significant works to come out of the Harlem Renaissance, and is considered to be a masterpiece in American modernist literature because of its distinct structure and style. First published in 1923 and told through a series of vignettes, Cane uses poetry, prose, and play-like dialogue to create a window into the varied lives of African Americans living in the rural South and urban North during a time when Jim Crow laws pervaded and racism reigned. While critically acclaimed and known today as a pioneering text of the Harlem Renaissance, the book did not gain as much popularity as other works written during the period. Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes believed Cane's lack of a wider readership was because it didn't reinforce the stereotypes often associated with African Americans during the time, but portrayed them in an accurate and entirely human way, breaking the mold and laying the groundwork for how African Americans are depicted in literature.