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”, 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.