Form in Jean Toomer’s, “Cane”

“Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,/
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,/
… I see the blade,/
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade”. (Toomer 6)

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Boni and Liveright, 1923.

“Reaper” in Jean Toomer’s, Cane, utilizes an AABB rhyme scheme and a number of commas to give the poem an eerie tone and vivid imagery, showing the grizzly loss of an innocent life for the simple act of cutting grass. This symbolizes the idea of African American slave lives lost for the South’s agricultural profit and growth.

Toomer, “Cane.” Topic: Form

Esther is twenty-seven” (Toomer 43).

Toomer, Jean. Cane. 1923. New York: Liveright, 2011.

Italicized numbers as headings for sections of the story, assume they mean age and confirmed by last heading; this quote longer, more direct, comes before a closing/ending

Toomer’s “Cane”: FACE Tone and Structure



like streams of stars,

Brows —
recurved canoes
quivered by the ripples blown by pain,

Her eyes—
mist of tears!” (Toomer 14)

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Boni and Liveright, 1923.

In between each line in the poem, there’s a pause indicated by a hyphen. The repeated short breaks draws attention to the subject indicated by the capitalized first letter and each bodily feature having its own line as its being described. Because African American work is spoken rather than read unlike most traditional works of literature, the lines are short with multiple pauses. However, for the reader they hang onto the words being divided by the small breaks. Because these lines are short, it embodies the tone for this poem.


Toomer, “Cane”, Formatting of Prose for the Reader

“When the first was born, the white folks said they’d have no more to do with her. And black folks, they too joined hands to cast her out… The pines whispered to Jesus.. The railroad boss said not to say he had said it, but she could live, if she wanted to, on the narrow strip of land between the railroad and the road.” (Toomer 9).

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Boni and Liveright, 1923.

Toomer formats the prose of “Becky” how he intends it to be read aloud. The ellipses and two periods work to clue the reader into pausing for air and the commas show when there should be a light pause in the delivery of the line. Since African American culture is largely oral, it is an important aspect of the book’s cultural influence to understand the prose and format of the book in this way.