Cane by Jean Toomer (Compare and Contrast Karintha and Paul) Jean Toomers writings are defined as a witty expression of so-called, Harlem Renaissance spirit, which we largely associate with Black literature of twenties and thirties. His major work is called Cane, a novel, composed of prose and poetry. The structure of Cane is very complicated. It consists of many, seemingly unrelated stories and poetry pieces, which are divided in three parts. The main motif of is a description of Black rural and urban life in America, at the time. Throughout the novel, author uses highly metaphorical language; therefore various critics are interpreting the significance of Canes characters differently.
Numerous metaphors, mixed with authors unique understanding of nature that can talk to people by the means of clouds, make it hard for us to analyze Canes characters from a rational prospective. Still, we cant think of this as novels shortcoming, because Toomers original intention was to make his reflections on issues to correspond with our reading impressions. Such method in literature we usually refer to as modernism, although I personally think that Cane is better described as symbolist piece. Its characters lack materialism, it seems their fragility makes them prone to be gone with the wind. This impression gets even stronger, as author continuously refer to the wind in his stories. It appears to be the gesture of ultimate emotionalism on his part, but it also might be that Toomers excessive reflections on nature are rationally motivated.
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They compensate for the lack of structural clarity, in his short stories. Let us analyze two representative characters in Cane- Karintha and Paul. This will provide us with opportunity to see whether Toomers heroes psychological traits can be thought of as an independent variable, around which the novel revolves. Cane begins with vignette, Karintha. Basically, it is a story of young woman, who simply matured too fast. It caused her to become the object of mens desires, before she could comprehend the possible outcome of it. Toomer uses a highly expressive language, while describing her: Skin like the dusk on the eastern horizon … When the sun goes down (Toomer, p.4).
His specific concept of beauty has to do with his understanding of racial issues Toomer likes neither Black nor White. In his short stories, he promotes the notion of American race Karintha begins to be sexually exploited very early in her life. After loosing her child, she starts to hate men passionately, since she rightfully considers them as destroyers of her happiness. At the same time, she gets to realize that her sexual appeal can bring certain dividends. We see her being innerly divided between her longing for revenge and desire to make easy money, by offering her body as sexual commodity. As story goes further, we get to realize that Karintha also emotionally suffers over the fact that she cannot deal with her growing lust.
At the beginning, she used to comfort herself with the thought that it was her, who exploited mens weaknesses, being able to keep her own sexuality under control. Yet, as she found out, it became increasingly difficult to do. In the end, we see that Karintha indulges in sex only so that she can escape from her mounting feelings of guilt. She appears to be dealing with an internal complex, when psychological frustration drives her towards self-destruction. There is a definite karma of negativity around Karintha. When describing her early years, the author says: She stoned the cows, and beat her dog, and fought the other children Even the preacher, who caught her at her mischief, told himself that she was as innocent lovely as a November cotton flower (Toomer, p.
There is nothing about her that wouldnt have to do with Karinthas true essence. When Toomer mentions a black crow flying over Karintha, he does it for reason this is meant to emphasize that the dark side has always followed her and this was only a matter of time before Karintha would accept it. The tragedy here lies in the fact that, even though Karinthas well-developed intuition allows her to foresee events; it renders her powerless to alter their course. As time goes by, she begins to consider herself as being one-dimensional individual, although it is far from the truth. Toomer has proven himself as a psychologist in Karintha. At the time Cane was being written, womans sexuality used to be considered as only an attributive factor.
Media played an important role, in my sexual socialization. It seemed as if everyone had sex by the time they were eighteen years old and if not, they were a loser. Sex was suppose to make us cool. One of my girlfriends even pledged that if she did not lose her virginity by the age of eighteen, she was going to commit suicide. I got my first image of how I wanted my first time to be from the show ...
Still, Karintha shows us that women are highly sexual beings, just if author wanted to say that men could only be sexual from time to time, meanwhile women are always sexual. Women subconsciously strive towards sexual tension in their relations with men. It is ironic that, even though many critics describe Cane as progressive novel, a big number of politically incorrect ideas can still be found in it. Toomer sees women as being irrational and driven by instincts, while he describes men as more complex creatures. The best example, in this respect, is the story of Paul in Toomers Paul and Bona. It is a highly philosophical attempt to rationalize something very irrational, love.
The character of Paul is attracted to a girl, named Bona. But instead of making some concrete steps towards realization of his dream, he wants to understand the true significance of his feelings first. He tries to rise above his emotions, in order to analyze them. Its not that he wants to see the object of his desire he wants to visualize the love itself. Paul concludes that the loves true essence will present itself, as long as he continues to actively look for it. His search for the illusive essence of love makes him to conclude that it can only be found in the expressions of nature. The notion of beautiful garden becomes Pauls tool in his quest. He says that he will wait until trees begin to bloom there, so that he can finally grasp loves meaning.
Of course, Pauls notion of garden appears to be purely symbolic. It is nothing but internal realization of his craving for clarity. Author shows himself as superior writer by giving this storyline an additional twist. One time Paul walks into the real garden, but the readers are still not sure about whether it happened in reality: something beautiful is going to happenI came intolife in the Gardens with one whom I did not knowI am going out and gather petalsI am going out and know her whom I brought here with me to these Gardens which are purple like a bed of roses would be at dusk (Toomer, p.78).
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The dreams and reality are fused in Paul and Bona in very whimsical way. However, were left without doubts that Paul has found what he was looking for, after he receives the revelation of purple roses at dusk. I understand the significance of Pauls character as poetic accumulation of all mens strengths and weaknesses.
Men are able to operate with abstract categories, but they often do it at the expense of vitality. It is by no accident that Paul finds himself being lonely, at the end of his metaphysical quest: When he reached the spot where they had been standing, Bona was gone (Toomer, p.78).
The characters of Karintha and Paul are too sketchy and thats why they cant be given a full psychological evaluation. It is clearly the case of author using his characters as tools, in order to bring us his views on such controversial issues as sexuality and love. Karinthas problems originate in her inability to control physical instincts, while Pauls negativity is shown as the result of his intellectualizations. Although, there is no direct connection between these two Canes characters, we can conclude that their behavioral patterns come as result of a fundamental difference between men and womens centers of gravity.
Both, Karintha and Paul act in predetermined modes, even though that on the surface, external factors appears to be crucial. Those authors that use figurative language can give us insights on many eternal issues, but they rarely provide us with answers about how to deal with these issues. Jean Toomers Cane does not appear to be the exception
Baker, Houston A. Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. University of Chicago,Chicago: 1987 Toomer, Jean. Cane.
Liveright. New York: 1923.