Toomer Challenges Racial Identity English Literature Essay

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Karintha, reapers and November cotton flowers, all have similar settings in rural Georgia which is located in the south where we see a lot of racism going on. The south for black Americans functioned as a site for trauma as well as a symbolic reference for their homeland. It is also a symbolic connection between slavery and sexualized black women. It's is all embedded in Toomer's quest for racial identity as a mulatto. Toomer tries to represent the black woman's sexuality as an act of sexual union scarred by traumatic history by depicting Karintha as an innocent prostitute. The book cane is regarded as a passing era associated with the trauma of slavery. Toomer was trying to create a connection between racial and cultural continuity generated by modernity to the regulation of black female desire. The major theme in this story which is death and sex relate to the Black American historical content of slavery and lynching. We see that in Cane, Toomer uses nature to describe the bodies of the black females but nearly all the females are either tortured or violated in the rural settings which projects displacement of nature. The haunting rhythm of folk songs in the rural landscape draws attention to the women who are objects of male desire and transforms this women into 'lost objects'. Toomer portrays the gender issues and social barriers that hindered black women. ''Her skin is like dust on the eastern horizon''..."when the sun goes down" (page 5).

This description Toomer gives of karintha as dusk shows that what she represents is fading away. Karintha introduces the themes of movement in life and death that reoccur in the book Cane. "The interest of men, who wishes to ripen a growing thing too soon… (page5) " shows that men hastened her sexual development. Karintha represents the folk's spirit that is fading away due to modernity in the south, she is over sexualized and that means that black men still have urges to be reconnected with the past.

In Reapers, we see major racial themes here; the idea of slavery takes major precedence in one's mind when we start reading the poem. Toomer lays emphasis on the word "black" (Page 7) used to describe the black Americans that were slaves at that time in the south. The reapers were tied to a life of monotonous work. The introduction of the mower disrupts the peace in the cultivation of the weeds and brings war; this brings out the theme of racism, where there is constant social war between the colored and the white. The poem Reapers is suggestive of Black field laborers in the early 20th Century. Toomer also tries to depict the problem of racial economic inequalities that were also present in the south at that time. The word 'continue' (page7) connotes the constant labor the black male did in the fields. We also have a view on how in the early 20th century, black males who had their lands would have to work and pay a certain amount back to the whites thereby leaving them with little profit. All their turmoil and hard work was always in vain. We also see an introduction to violence that emerges with the blood-stained scythe that has cut a rat in the poem, an issue that Toomer readdresses later in cane.

November cotton flower is another poem that ensues after Reapers, the poem talks about environment in the south were we all know was difficult for the colored skin at that point in time. The poem describes how the cotton flowers survived the harsh south weather and still strived through the hard times it went through.

We see Toomer use the idea of racial identity, he uses the images of scarcity, drought and death to express the black race during the time the poem was written. '…Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear,

Beauty so sudden for that time of year.' (Page 8)

Toomer depicts the sudden urge that the African American race have to fight against racism. The description of a hope for the cotton flower shows that Toomer believes there is hope for the African American; he tries to create a link between the oppression of race to the growing of a cotton flower.

In Cane, Toomer tries to create a hybrid structure, where we see a combination of short stories and poems. Karintha, Reapers, and November cotton flowers portray death, labor, racial identity and racism which portray major themes in the book cane as a whole. The book cane is designed in a circle, Toomer starts from the south up into the north and back into the southern regions again. Since, Karintha, Reapers, and November cotton flowers are the first three consecutive pieces in the book Cane, Toomer gives us a shadow or a hint of what is to proceed in other poems and stories in the book. The three pieces are set in the rural south where a lot of racial identity is taking place, the description of Karintha as a November cotton flower, also gives us an imagery of how the south and its environment looked at that point in time.

In karintha, Toomer describes her as an innocent prostitute who men constantly came to for gratification of their sexual desires just to fend a living for herself. Toomer reechoes the themes labor and economic inequalities also found in the poem Reapers and November cotton flower. "Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade" (page 7) shows how the African Americans in the south had to continually labor to fend for themselves and family. In the south, the blacks grew cotton for a living but in November cotton flower, they had turmoil but seen no rewards of their labor, the natural resources were depleted thereby leaving the fields empty. "And cotton scarce as any southern snow" (page 8)

Toomer's cane is compiled of encounters with both blacks and white and black. In Karintha, we see encounters between blacks and white. Karintha was a black woman who was sexually appealing to both the white and black men in her community. However, in Reapers and November cotton flower we see the opposite of such encounters. Even though white men are attracted to karintha, in Reapers, and November cotton flowers, we see that they belittle the dusk skin color and subject them to a life of constant labor.

Toomer also paints the theme death in these three consecutive pieces that start the book cane, as it would also be discussed in the other poems and stories that followed. In karintha, we see towards the ending that she mysteriously has a child who dies, Toomer likens the death to "smokes that curl up" in the community. Furthermore, Toomer uses animals in Reapers and November cotton flowers to signify death. In reapers, "And there a field rat, startled squealing bleeds," (page7)

Shows the black reaper slays the rat and leaves it bleeding without offering any sympathy to it. Toomer also describes the features of a dead land in November cotton flowers. ''…dead birds were found" (page 8).

Toomer's description of Karintha as a November Cotton flower shows the idea of double consciousness because karintha was depicted by Toomer as a violent child who was mischievous and always stoning the cow, yet the preacher convinced himself that there was nothing wrong in her acts and regarded her as a November cotton flower. Toomer tries to portray how the whites thought their maltreatment of the blacks were justified and lawful. Which, is also the same thing seen in Reapers when the reaper refuses to acknowledge the fact that he had hurt the rat.

The introduction of the mowers by Toomer in the reapers also signifies the birth of modernism and the new Negro movements, which, is also repeated in November cotton flowers when the cotton flowers begins to unexpectedly grow and the blacks see a hopeful future after the death of karintha's child which signifies the death of the old negro and old cultural style because as soon as Toomer transitions to the rural setting, the folk song setting seems to vanish.

Jean Toomer's cane is a book that takes into cognizance, the lives lived by Negros at that particular era and his work was considered as the New Negro art that led other black poets or writers to write other books in that light.

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