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
Cane is a 1923 novel by noted Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer. The novel is structured as a series of vignettes revolving around the origins and experiences of African Americans in the United States. The vignettes alternate in structure between narrative prose, poetry, and play-like passages of dialogue. As a result, the novel has been classified as a composite novel or as a short story cycle. Though some characters and situations recur between vignettes, the vignettes are mostly freestanding, tied to the other vignettes thematically and contextually more than through specific plot details.
The ambitious, nontraditional structure of the novel - and its later influence on future generations of writers - have helped Cane gain status as a classic of modernism. Several of the vignettes have been excerpted or anthologized in literary collections; the poetic passage "Harvest Song" has been included in multiple Norton poetry anthologies. The poem opens with the line: "I am a reaper whose muscles set at sundown.