Presentation on theme: "Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston."— Presentation transcript:
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston
Selected Bibliography Color Struck (1925) in Opportunity MagazineColor Struck Sweat (1926) How It Feels to Be Colored Me (1928) Hoodoo in America (1931) in The Journal of American FolkloreThe Journal of American Folklore The Gilded Six-Bits (1933) Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934) Mules and Men (1935) Tell My Horse (1937) Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)Their Eyes Were Watching God Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939) Dust Tracks on a Road (1942) Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) I Love Myself When I Am Laughing...and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (edited by Alice Walker; introduction by Mary Helen Washington) (1979) Sanctified Church (1981) Spunk: Selected Stories (1985)
The Negative Reception and Critical Recovery of Hurstons Novel Common Critiques 1) The novel was out of step with the growing demand that African-American novels answer to the demands of social realism 2) The all-black town and its mayor were characterized as unrealistic fantasy lands. (Hurston, though, grew up n an all black town where her father was mayor)
The Richard Wright Critique The most damaging critique of all came from the most well-known and influential black writer of the day, Richard Wright. Writing for the leftist magazine New Masses, Wright excoriated Their Eyes as a novel that did for literature what the minstrel shows did for theater, that is, make white folks laugh. The novel, he said, "carries no theme, no message, no thought," but exploited those "quaint" aspects of Negro life that satisfied the tastes of a white audience. By the end of the forties, a decade dominated by Wright and by the stormy fiction of social realism, the quieter voice of a woman searching for self-realization could not, or would not, be heard. Alain Locke, dean of black scholars and critics during the Harlem Renaissance, wrote in his yearly review of the literature for Opportunity magazine that Hurston's Their Eyes was simply out of step with the more serious trends of the times. When, he asks, will Hurston stop creating "these pseudo-primitives whom the reading public still loves to laugh with, weep over, and come to grips with the motive fiction and social document fiction.: The Alain Locke Critique
Sherley Anne Williams Recovery Sherley Anne Williams remembers going down to a conference in Los Angeles in 1969 where the main speaker, Toni Cade Bambara, asked the women in the audience, "Are the sisters here ready for Tea Cake?" And Williams, remembering that even Tea Cake had his flaws, responded, "Are the Tea Cakes of the world ready for us?" Williams taught Their Eyes for the first time at Cal State Fresno, in a migrant farming area where the students, like the characters in Their Eyes, were used to making their living from the land. "For the first time," Williams says, "they saw themselves in these characters and they saw their lives portrayed with joy. Alice Walkers Enshrinement "Alice Walker was teaching the novel at Wellesley in the 1971–72 school year when she discovered that Hurston was only a footnote in the scholarship. Reading in an essay by a white folklorist that Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave, Walker decided that such a fate was an insult to Hurston and began her search for the grave to put a marker on it. In a personal essay, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," written for Ms. magazine, Walker describes going to Florida and searching through waist-high weeds to find what she thought was Hurston's grave and laying on it a "marker inscribed "Zora Neale Hurston/'A Genius of the South'/Novelist/Folklorist/Anthropologist/1901–1960." With that inscription and that essay, Walker ushered in a new era in the scholarship on Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Writing and Speaking Complicating the Notion of the 3 rd Person They sat there in the fresh young darkness close together. Pheoby eager to feel and do through Janie, but hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity. Janie full of that oldest human longing self-revelation. Pheoby held her tongue for a long time, but she couldn't help moving her feet. So Janie spoke. Pheoby's hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story. So she went on thinking back to her young years and explaining them to her friend in soft, easy phrases while all around the house, the night time put on flesh and blackness.
Mixed Discourse and Double Voiced-ness: Standard Prose and Dialect Issuing from One Narrator "Pheoby, we been kissin'-friends for twenty years, so Ah depend on you for a good thought. And Ah'm talking to you from dat standpoint Time makes everything old so the kissing, young darkness became a monstropolous old things while Janie talked. Question: To what extent is the narrator Janie, and to what extent s the narrator extracted from her. What are the implications of this confusion n a text intimately concerned with how women find their own voices.
Du Boisian Echoes: The Sudden Realization of Blackness in Art: Its implications and Deficiencies "Dey all useter call me Alphabet 'cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said: " Aw, aw! Ah'm colored! Question: Weve seen this trope elsewhere as an introduction to racial self- consciousness and self-knowledge in general. Is thats what s happening here? What is the significance that it is not another person, but an artistic representation of Jane that brings her to her consciousness of her racial difference? Is Hurston casting her book as a type of means to self- knowledge and self-realization: one offered by the artist to the artistic consumer?
Self-Realization and Sexuality She thought awhile and decided that her conscious life had commenced at Nanny's gate. On a late afternoon Nanny had called her to come inside the house because she had spied Janie letting Johnny Taylor kiss her over the gatepost. It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf- buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness. Oh to be a pear tree any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. Question: If Janies conscious life begins with her first sexual encounter (the kiss), how does Janies view of the blossoming pear tree speak to a quest for consciousness that is not articulated in individual terms or without objectifying her as a sex object (as her grandmother feels is, almost, her inescapable destiny)? How does the legacy of slavery fit into all of this?
The Role of Black Women in Black (and White) Society: The differences between womanhood and consciousness ""Janie, youse uh 'oman, now, so "Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it's some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don't know nothin' but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin' fuh it tuh be different wid you. Lawd, Lawd, Lawd! "And Ah can't die easy thinkin' maybe de menfolks white or black is makin' a spit cup outa you: Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah'm a cracked plate. "She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making. The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman."
Womanhood and Marriage vs. Partnership and Fulfillment Patriarchy, Paternalism, and (un)fair Gender Expectations ""I god, Ah don't see how come yuh can't. 'Tain't nothin' atall tuh hinder yuh if yuh got uh thimble full uh sense. You got tuh. Ah got too much else on mah hands as Mayor. Dis town needs some light right now. ""Over, Janie? I god, Ah ain't even started good. Ah told you in de very first beginnin' dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice. You oughta be glad, 'cause dat makes uh big woman outa you. "Lift yo' eyes and gaze on it. And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lamp-wick let de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Brother Davis, lead us in a word uh prayer. Ask uh blessin' on dis town in uh most particular manner Given his social position and the condition of society, is Jody really a demonical character? To what extent are his complaints not without merit?
The Masculine Front Porch- Social Identity as Masculine Province "Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn't want her talking after such trashy people. "You'se Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I god, Ah can't see what uh woman uh yo' stability would want tuh be treasurin' all dat gum-grease from folks dat don't even own de house dey sleep in. 'Tain't no earthly use. They's jus' some puny humans playin' round de toes uh Time. "When the mule was in front of the store, Lum went out and tackled him. The brute jerked up his head, laid back his ears and rushed to the attack. Lum had to run for safety. Five or six more men left the porch and surrounded the fractious beast, goosing him in the sides and making him show his temper. But he had more spirit left than body. He was soon panting and heaving from the effort of spinning his old carcass about. Everybody was having fun at the mule-baiting. All but Janie.
The Human State as Antagonism or Harmony Listen, Sam, if it was nature, nobody wouldnt have tuh look out for babies touchin stoves, would they? Cause dey just naturally wouldnt touch it. But dey sho will. So its caution. Naw it aint, its nature, cause nature makes caution. Its de strongest thing dat God ever made, now. Fact is its de onliest thing God every made. He made nature and nature made everything else.
The Ownership Status of Sexuality Janies Phallus This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. It didn't seem sensible at all. That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. "She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there. She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up again. Then she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see, and opened up the window and cried, "Come heah people! Jody is dead. Mah husband is gone from me."",
Signifying: Public Discourse and Its Constraints: Defining Self Through Discourse with Others ""Naw, Ah ain't no young gal no mo' but den Ah ain't no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah'm uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat's uh whole lot more'n you kin say. You big-bellies round here and put out a lot of brag, but 'tain't nothin' to it but yo' big voice. Humph! Talkin' 'bout me lookin' old! When you pull down yo' britches, you look lak de change uh life. ""Just a matter of time," the doctor told her. "When a man's kidneys stop working altogether, there is no way for him to live. He needed medical attention two years ago. Too late now.
Masculine and Feminine Place in the World Self-Definition vs. A Dialogical Coming into Being ""Ah know it. And now you got tuh die tuh find out dat you got tuh pacify somebody besides yo'self if you wants any love and any sympathy in dis world. You ain't tried tuh pacify nobody but yo'self. Too busy listening tuh yo' own big voice.
Freedom, Self-Reliance, Isolation 9 "Digging around inside of herself like that she found that she had no interest in that seldom-seen mother at all. She hated her grandmother and had hidden it from herself all these years under a cloak of pity. She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her. But she had been whipped like a cur dog, and run off down a back road after things. It was all according to the way you see things. Some people could look at a mud-puddle and see an ocean with ships. But Nanny belonged to that other kind that loved to deal in scraps. Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her. She hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love. Most humans didn't love one another nohow, and this mislove was so strong that even common blood couldn't overcome it all the time "She and Pheoby Watson visited back and forth and once in awhile sat around the lakes and fished. She was just basking in freedom for the most part without the need for thought. A Sanford undertaker was pressing his cause through Pheoby, and Janie was listening pleasantly but undisturbed. It might be nice to marry him, at that. No hurry. Such things take time to think about, or rather she pretended to Pheoby that that was what she was doing.
The Last Day for the Nobody Excuse 10 "whether Ah do or not, 'cause nobody ain't never showed me how "Dis is de last day for dat excuse. You got uh board round heah? "Yes indeed. De men folks treasures de game round heah. Ah just ain't never learnt how He set it up and began to show her and she found herself glowing inside. Somebody wanted her to play. Somebody thought it natural for her to play. That was even nice. She looked him over and got little thrills from every one of his good points. Those full, lazy eyes with the lashes curling sharply away like drawn scimitars. The lean, over-padded shoulders and narrow waist. Even nice! He was jumping her king!
Imaginary Lamps vs Streetlights Magic Disappearing Acts 10 "He turned and threw his hat at her feet. "If she don't throw it at me, Ah'll take a chance on comin' back," he announced, making gestures to indicate he was hidden behind a post. She picked up the hat and threw it after him with a laugh. "Even if she had uh brick she couldn't hurt yuh wid it," he said to an invisible companion. "De lady can't throw." He gestured to his companion, stepped out from behind the imaginary lamp post, set his coat and hat and strolled back to where Janie was as if he had just come in the store
Self and Community, Community-Self 11 Janie wanted to ask Hezekiah about Tea Cake, but she was afraid he might misunderstand her and think she was interested. In the first place he looked too young for her. Must be around twenty-five and here she was around forty. Then again he didn't look like he had too much. Maybe he was hanging around to get in with her and strip her of all that she had. Just as well if she never saw him again. He was probably the kind of man who lived with various women but never married. Fact is, she decided to treat him so cold if he ever did foot the place that he'd be sure not to come hanging around there again. "It was after the picnic that the town began to notice things and got mad. Tea Cake and Mrs. Mayor Starks! All the men that she could get, and fooling with somebody like Tea Cake! Another thing, Joe Starks hadn't been dead but nine months and here she goes sashaying off to a picnic in pink linen. Done quit attending church, like she used to. Gone off to Sanford in a car with Tea Cake and her all dressed in blue! It was a shame. Done took to high heel slippers and a ten dollar hat! Looking like some young girl, always in blue because Tea Cake told her to wear it. Poor Joe Starks. Bet he turns over in his grave every day. Tea Cake and Janie gone hunting. Tea Cake and Janie gone fishing. Tea Cake and Janie gone to Orlando to the movies. Tea Cake and Janie gone to a dance.", [Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God]
Looking, Being, Leaving Maiden Language 12 "Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine. "She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn't sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin' on porches lak de white madam. looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat's whut she wanted for me don't keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn't have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin'. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high stool lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin' extry and Ah ain't read de common news yet. "Ah'm older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where it's de thought dat makes de difference in ages. If people thinks de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin' new thoughts had tuh be thought and new words said. After Ah got used tuh dat, we gits 'long jus' fine. He done taught me de maiden language all over. Wait till you see de new blue satin Tea Cake done picked out for me tuh stand up wid him in. High heel slippers, necklace, earrings, everything he wants tuh see me in. Some of dese mornin's and it won't be long, you gointuh wake up callin' me and Ah'll be gone.
Why to Good to be True 13 She was broken and her pride was gone, so she told those who asked what had happened. Who Flung had taken her to a shabby room in a shabby house in a shabby street and promised to marry her next day. They stayed in the room two whole days then she woke up to find Who Flung and her money gone. She got up to stir around and see if she could find him, and found herself too worn out to do much. All she found out was that she was too old a vessel for new wine. The next day hunger had driven her out to shift.
A New Kind of Work 15 So the very next morning Janie got ready to pick beans along with Tea Cake. There was a suppressed murmur when she picked up a basket and went to work. She was already getting to be a special case on the muck. It was generally assumed that she thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women and "that Tea Cake "pomped her up tuh dat." But all day long the romping and playing they carried on behind the boss's back made her popular right away. It got the whole field to playing off and on. Then Tea Cake would help get supper afterwards Ah naw, honey. Ah laks it. It's mo' nicer than settin' round dese quarters all day. Clerkin' in dat store wuz hard, but heah, we ain't got nothin' tuh do but do our work and come home and love."", [Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God]
Blood for the Gods 16 "Her thin lips were an ever delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas- relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from Negroes. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie's coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields. She didn't forgive her for marrying a man as dark as Tea Cake, but she felt that she could remedy that. That was what her brother was born for. She seldom stayed long when she found Tea Cake at home, but when she happened to drop in and catch Janie alone, she'd spend hours chatting away. Her disfavorite subject was Negroes. Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there. It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.
Self Possession, Envy? 17 " A great deal of the old crowd were back. But there were lots of new ones too. Some of these men made passes at Janie, and women who didn't know took out after Tea Cake. Didn't take them long to be put right, however. Still and all, jealousies arose now and then on both sides. When Mrs. Turner's brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had a brainstorm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. Everybody talked about it next day in the fields. It aroused a sort of envy in both men and women. The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps
18 Folkore "Then everybody but God and Old Peter flew off on a flying race to Jericho and back and John de Conquer won the race; went on down to hell, beat the old devil and passed out ice water to everybody down there. Somebody tried to say that it was a mouth organ harp that John was playing, but the rest of them would not hear that. Don't care how good anybody could play a harp, God would rather to hear a guitar. That brought them back to Tea Cake. How come he couldn't hit that box a lick or two? Well, all right now, make us know it.
No Voice 19 "The court set and Janie saw the judge who had put on a great robe to listen about her and Tea Cake. And twelve more white men had stopped whatever they were doing to listen and pass on what happened between Janie and Tea Cake Woods, and as to whether things were done "right or not. That was funny too. Twelve strange men who didn't know a thing about people like Tea Cake and her were going to sit on the thing. Eight or ten white women had come to look at her too. They wore good clothes and had the pinky color that comes of good food. They were nobody's poor white folks. What need had they to leave their richness to come look on Janie in her overalls? But they didn't seem too mad, Janie thought. It would be nice if she could make them know how it was instead of those menfolks. Oh, and she hoped that undertaker was fixing Tea Cake up fine. They ought to let her go see about it. Yes, and there was Mr. Prescott that she knew right well and he was going to tell the twelve men to kill her for shooting Tea Cake. And a strange man from Palm Beach who was going to ask them not to kill her, and none of them knew
The End of What? By morning Gabriel was playing the deep tones in the center of the drum. So when Janie looked out of her door she saw the drifting mists gathered in the west that cloud field of the sky to arm themselves with thunders and march forth against the world. Louder and higher and lower and wider the sound and motion spread, mounting, sinking, darking. The folks let the people do the thinking. If the castles thought themselves secure, the cabins needn't worry. Their decision was already made as always. Chink up your cracks, shiver in your wet beds and wait on the mercy of the Lord. The bossman might have the thing stopped before morning anyway. It is so easy to be hopeful in the day time when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands.
Six Eyes Were Questioning God "Did He mean to do this thing to Tea Cake and her? It wasn't anything she could fight. She could only ache and wait. Maybe it was some big tease and when He saw it had gone far enough He'd give her a sign. She looked hard for something up there to move for a sign. A star in the daytime, maybe, or the sun to shout, or even a mutter of thunder. Her arms went up in a desperate supplication for a minute. It wasn't exactly pleading, it was asking questions. The sky stayed hard looking and quiet so she went inside the house. God would do less than He had in His heart. Janie said. Ole Massa is doin' His work now. Us oughta keep quiet. They huddled closer and stared at the door. They just didn't use another part of their bodies, and they didn't look at anything but the door. The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God. ""The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.
The Trial "The court set and Janie saw the judge who had put on a great robe to listen about her and Tea Cake. And twelve more white men had stopped whatever they were doing to listen and pass on what happened between Janie and Tea Cake Woods, and as to whether things were done right or not. That was funny too. Twelve strange men who didn't know a thing about people like Tea Cake and her were going to sit on the thing. Eight or ten white women had come to look at her too. They wore good clothes and had the pinky color that comes of good food. They were nobody's poor white folks. What need had they to leave their richness to come look on Janie in her overalls? But they didn't seem too mad, Janie thought "Then she saw all of the colored people standing up in the back of the courtroom. Packed tight like a case of celery, only much darker than that. They were all against her, she could see. So many were there against her that a light slap from each one of them would have beat her to death. She felt them pelting her with dirty thoughts. They were there with their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon left to weak folks. "She tried to make them see how terrible it was that things were fixed so that Tea Cake couldn't come back to himself until he had got rid of that mad dog that was in him and he couldn't get rid of the dog and live. He had to die to get rid of the dog. But she hadn't wanted to kill him. A man is up against a hard game when he must die.
Voice, Knowledge, Power Now, Pheoby, don't feel too mean wid de rest of 'em 'cause dey's parched up from not knowin' things. Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they's alive. Let 'em consolate theyselves wid talk. 'Course, talkin' don't amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can't do nothin' else. And listenin' tuh dat kind uh talk is "jus' lak openin' yo' mouth and lettin' de moon shine down yo' throat. It's uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo' papa and yo' mama and nobody else can't tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves.
The Foregrounding of Gender with Respect to Identity A Feminism of Difference, Equality, or Both Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. Question: How is this assertion of feminine strength and the juxtaposition (where women will and chase their dreams and men never reach for theirs) reinforced and/or complemented by Janies need to find fulfillment in her succession of male partners? Does Hurston imply that feminine self-realization is something more than self-reliance (the typical measure of a fully realized man?)
The Horizon The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing. Commenced to sing, commenced to sob and sigh, singing and sobbing. Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn't dead. He could "never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
Cane By Jean Toomer
Jean Toomer ( ): A Brief Biography 1)Born on December 26, 1864 in Washington D.C. and named Eugene Pinchback 2)Toomer was from an affluent family and grew-up privileged amongst the upper-class strata of the Black bourgeoisie in New Orleans and Washington D.C. 3)In 1914, He enrolls in the University of Wisconsin to study agriculture, but quit after he did not win the election for class president. 4)He then attended the American College of Physical Training where he became a devout socialist, delivering several lectures on socialism in halls for which he paid. 5)He was denied enlistment into the Army in 1917 and became a Ford car salesman in Chicago 6)From , Toomer wrote furiously, filling an entire trunk with poems, essays, short stories, and letters (most of which have never seen publication). 7)In 1921, Toomer became an administrator at the Sparta Agricultural and Industrial Institute in Hancock Georgia, where he first experienced the lives of rural blacks, which would have a profound effect on his writing of Cane. 8)After Cane, Toomer published some poetry and essays but never wrote another novel. 9)Toomer also never wrote again about the African American experience, as he felt his light-skin and Mediterranean features (as well as his affluence) made that experience irrelevant to him. 10)He died in Doylestown Pennsylvania on march 30, )Cane was a huge critical success but not a huge financial success. Partially because he never wrote another novel, Cane fell off the radar until it was re-published in It has been considered a seminal novel of the Harlem Renaissance evener since.
Cane: Structure, Major Themes, and Key Symbols Structure Cane is not organized like most novels. Rather it is an impressionistic piece, with many poems, characters, and sketches that are similar in theme. Though the book has no through-line (no connection from chapter to chapter), but it is considered to be divided into three parts (set apart from each other with the pages that contain pictures of arcs. It was Toomers intention to create a book that he believed would lead reader on a circular progression. The first section (Karintha, Reapers, November Cotton Flower, Becky, Face, Cotton Song Carma Song of Son, Georgia Dusk, Fern, Nullo, Evening Song, Esther, Portrait of Georgia, and Blood Burning Moon) takes place in rural Georgia and concerns itself with the lives of poor blacks. The second section (Rhobert, Avey, Beehive, Storm Ending, Theater, Box Seat,Prayer, Harvest Song and Bona and Paul) was written on request from Toomers publisher, and takes place in the North, in Washington D.C. and Chicago. It focuses on urban life in all its flurry, and also on a series of romances that fail because of internalized Racism, the awkward position of the Southern transplant, and the internalization of class prejudices. The third section is comprised of the novella Kabnis, the story of a mixed race man who goes to teach in Georgia and finds himself attracted b the beauty of the land, but repulsed by its people. After interacting wit the locals, Kabnis learns of lynching and becomes increasingly paranoid. He gives up on intellectual life after being fired and takes up physical labor. In the end, he is so degraded he cannot even stand on his own. It is this downtrodden state that brings the novel full circle, back to the downtrodden of Rural Georgia. Major themes: Race and racism, Internalized Racism, Segregation, Miscegenation, Class Anxiety, the Inadequacy of current Gender Roles and Christianity, Socialism, Sexual Subjugation, Racial terrorism, Self-Isolation, and Urban Isolation--- the failure of the romances is always meant to point to a failure in the social fabric that makes real connections between people impossible. Key Symbols: The cotton and cane plants, fire, lynching, the mill and factory, voice (the narrative and poetic voices and their flux), Barlo, and houses (theater houses, (Rhoberts head, and Halseys house where Kabnis ends up in a virtual slave dungeon).
Arc I or The Beginning of the Circle Part one combines, (among other things) hypocrisy, physical beauty, restrictive religious codes, and psychological trauma. Sex and relationship isnt what it should be, nature is disrupted, the women are symbolic figures, stifled and trapped. It also invokes the black mans incapacity to comprehend the beautiful in his own heritage Dante the Pilgrim and The Divine Comedy
Karintha …skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon Cant you see it, O cant you see it, Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon ….When the sun goes down. Karintha is a woman. She who carries beauty perfectas when the sun goes down. [….] Karintha is a woman, Young men run steel mills to make her money, Young men go to the big cities to build her a road. Young men go away to college. They all want to bring her money. These are the young men who thought that all they had to do was to count time. But Karintha is a woman, and she has a child. A child fell out of her womb onto the pine-needles in the forest. Pine needles are smooth and sweet. They are elastic to the feet of rabbits…A saw mill nearby. Its pyramidal sawdust pile smoldered. It is a year before one completely burns. Meanwhile, the smoke curls and hangs in odd wraiths about the trees, curls up, and spreads itself over the valley…. Weeks after Katrina returned home the smoke was so heavy you tasted it like water. Some one made a song: Smoke is on the hills. Rise up. Smoke is on the hills, O rise And take my soul to Jesus Talking Points 1)Keeping in mind that this is both, in a sense, the beginning and ending of Cane, what is the rhetorical effect produced by the opening lines depiction of a sunset and its accompanying juxtaposition of the human and non human? How does it make a commentary on Karintha and what is the nature of this commentary? Why begin a book with a figure who is unredeemable? 2)What is the effect produced by the opening lines call to the reader to see at sunset? What ironies are present? What do they suggest? 3)Keeping in mind that Karintha has been sexually objectified by men since childhood and, in turn, left to run sadistically wild, what is the effect produced by the passages descriptions of young men? What is the rhetorical significance of their actions and assumptions? How does the manner in which they intend to woo Karintha offer us insight into gender relations in this society? 4)What is the rhetorical effect by the repetition of the phrase Katrina is a woman? 5)How would you describe the narrative voices description of the birth? What is the rhetorical effect produced by it? Is this justifiable infanticide given all the resentment that Karintha rightfully has? What is the symbolic import of striking at the baby to get back at the young men? And what is the polemical effect of having the cremation occur at the mill and the symbolic import of pyramidal sawdust ? How does it make about how economic and gender relations in this arena conspire against Karintha, and does it contextualize her sadistic vengeance? 6)What is the effect produced both by the making the composer of the song anonymous and the narrators juxtaposition of the holy and unholy? How does it make us think of the role of Christianity in this community? How does it change the narrative voice and what are the effects of this change? 7)Describe how movement is presented in this passage and explicate the rhetorical, meta-textual, and polemical effects of this presentation for the novel? 8)Name all of the major themes in the novel that this passage set-up, or frames, at the novels beginning? How does the introduction of all these themes make Karintha in and of herself? And What are the rhetorical and polemical implications of making Karintha a symbol?
Reapers Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones In their hip-pockets as a thing thats done. And start their silent swinging, one by one. Black horses drive a mower through the weeds, And there, a field rat, started, squealing bleeds. His belly close to the ground. I see the the blade, Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade. Talking Points 1)Keep in mind that reapers follows Karintha. What similar themes to do you see in both pieces? How does on section link to the other, and what is the rhetorical effect produced by this praxis of linkage? How does this speak to the structure of Cane? Does it undermine the reigning assumption of a disjuncture between the chapters? Or is something more going on here? 2)What text is invoked by the poems invocation of scythes and black horses? What is the rhetorical effect produced by the invocation of this text? How does this effect resonate as an echo with themes and impressions contained in Karintha? Keeping Dantes circular progression of the Pilgrim poet in mind, how does Cane rework the spiritual and poetic economy of The Divine Comedy? 3)Here, and in November Cotton flower, agriculture surfaces as a major theme. What is the symbolic import of the reaping of cane here? Does it offer a commentary on Cane the novel as a project? 4)Why do you think the persona offers us such a stark portrait of the accidental killing of the rat? What is the significance of the personas entrancement with the rat in light of the reapers complete disregard for it? What might the rat be symbolize? 5)What do you make out of the fact that blood-stained scythes seem not to bother the reapers at all? How might this speak to the historical legacy of slavery in this arena? Does the vexing detail that the reapers are cutting shade help us to answer this question? 6)What do you make of the detail that, despite the fact that it is clearly cane being reaped, the persona calls cane weeds?
Becky The boys grew, Sullen and cunning,,, O pines, whisper to Jesus; tell Him to come press sweet Jesus-lips against their lips and eyes…..[….] No one dared ask. Theyd beat and cut a mans who meant nothing at all in mentioning that they lived along the road. White or Colored. No one new, at least of all themselves. They drifted from job to job. We, who had cast their mother out because of them, could we tae them in? [….] The last thing I remember was whipping Dan like fury, I remember nothing after that--that is, until I reached town and folk crowded around to get true word of it. Becky was the white woman who had two Negro sons. Shes dead, theyve gone away. The pines whisper to Jesus. The Bible flaps its leaves with an aimless rustle on her mound. Talking Points 1)For a minute, think of Becky as a refashioning of Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. Hester finds herself the sacrificial victim for a crime that is communal but not acknowledged as such. For what similarly communal crime is Becky sacrificed? 2)We know that Becky was ostracized from both the black and white communities for her crime, and yet members of these communities continue to secretly feed and house her? What are the significance of this fact? How does it represent an attempt to confine Becky, and what is the symbolic importance of this confinement? 3)What do you make of the fact that it is the chimney is what cause the house to collapse? How could the symbolic importance of this detail inform a reading of Toomers ongoing critique of gender roles and relation in the novel? 4)What effect is produced by the shifting narrative voice in these passages (of the move from 3rd person, to a we, to an I and, finally, back to the third person? How would you characterize the rhetorical effect produced of this voice taken as a composite? How does this fact comment on the theme of hypocrisy at work in the piece? 5)Becky is buried in a pile of wood. We know, from elsewhere in the novel (especially in Blood Burning Moon that stakes are associated with the pyre of a lynching? What do you make of the the import of this symbolic lynching? What are the ironies involved and how does this speak to Canes vexed positioning of white womanhood and enhance the ongoing theme of miscegenation in the novel? 6)Becky was a white woman resonates with the earlier repetition of Karintha was a woman in a unique way? How does this resonance tie the two characters together, and how does it also position them in dramatically different ways? How does the fact that we almost know nothing of the physical Becky (in contrast to Karintha) help enrich this picture? How does it further speak to the structure of the first section? 7)Barlo, one of the few repeated figures, surfaces here as a preacher. Given Beckys Catholicism (which also ostracizes her), what do you make of the symbolic significance that Barlo tosses his bible on Beckys mound? How does the aimless rustle of the pages enhance the ongoing theme/critique of Christianity in the Novel? 8)What do you make of the contrapuntal repetition of whispers to Jesus? From whom might these whispers come beside the narrator?
Georgia Dusk The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue The setting sun, too indolent to hold A lengthened tournament for flashing gold, Passively darkens for night's barbeque, A feast of moon and men and barking hounds. An orgy for some genius of the South With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth, Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds. The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop, And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill, Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill Their early promise of a bumper crop. Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low Where only chips and stumps are left to show The solid proof of former domicile. Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp, Race memories of king and caravan, High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man, Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp. Their voices rise...the pine trees are guitars, Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain.. Their voices rise...the pine trees are guitars, Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain.. Their voices rise...the chorus of the cane Is caroling a vesper to the stars. O singers, resinous and soft your songs Above the sacred whisper of the pines, Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines, Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs. Talking Points 1)The poems first stanza re-invokes two key elements of the text weve already explored. What are they, where do they come from, and how are they refashioned here? What is the rhetorical, polemical, and symbolic import of this refashioning? 2)The feast of moon and men foreshadows the lynching of Tom in Blood Burning Moon. Taken in conjunction with the mention of barking hounds, an orgy, cane-lipped scented mouths, folk song, and soul songs, how does this foreshadowing work? What key and repeated themes and tropes does it invoke? How might this genius of the South be, and how does this invoke the legacy of slavery? What effect does the invocation produce? 3)The pyramidal sawmill re-appears again here in the third and fourth stanzas, and seems to re-invoke both Karintha and Becky with the phrase former docile. What effects do these re-invocations produce and what is their significance? What is further achieved by positioning these re-invocations in a seemingly banal description of industry, both agricultural and at the mill? How is this offering a critique on both Southern economic injustices, and why is this economic critique tied to the critiques of gender and the spectre of lynching that permeates the entire novel? 4)What do you make of the invocations of race mysteries, High Priests and the Juju Man? How does their framing of vestiges speak to the historical legacy of slavery in the South? How does the re-invocation of sunset and night play into all of this> 5)What are the multiple ironies produced and multiple rhetorical effects of characterizing the voices in the penultimate stanza as a chorus of the cane? 6)The last stanza begins with an elegiac apostrophe, but then makes mention of virgin lips and cornfield concubines What multiple ironies are at work here? How do these ironies continue to develop the theme of Christianity in the book?
Esther The air was is thick with tobacco smoke. It makes her sick She wants to turn back. She goes up the steps. As if she were mounting to some great height her head spins.. She is violent dizzy. Blackness rushes to her yes. And then she finds that she is in a large room. Barlo stand before her. Well, Im sholy damned--skuse me, but what, what brought you here, lil white gal You. Her voice sounded like a frightened childs that calls homeward from some point miles away, Me Yes, you Barlo This aint the place fer y. This aint the place fer y, I know, I know. But Ive come fo you. For me to What She manages to look down and straight into his eyes. His is slow at understanding. Guffaws and giggles break out from all around the room. A coarse woman;s remarks, So thats how th dictie niggers do it. Laughs. Mus give em credit fo their gall. Ether doesnt hear. Barlo does. His faculties are jogged, She sees a smile, ugly and repulsive to her, working upward through thick licker fumes. Barlo is hideous. The thought comes suddenly, that conception with drunken men might be a sin. She draws away, froze. Like a somnabulist she wheels around and walks down the stairs, Down them. Jeers and hoots pelter bluntly upon her back. She steps out, There is no air, no street, the town has disappeared. Talking Points 1)In Esther, we see an incarnation of a classic figure that Helga Crane also embodies. What is this classic figure? How is her status as tragic reworked here? In other words, to what does Ether fall victim to in this passage? Why is Barlo both a figure of apocalyptic desire in Esthers earlier dreams (where she wishes him to overcome her), a figure of reverence in his trance, and a figure of repulsion for her? What do her conflicted feelings of desire and repulsion for barlo say about Esther? 2)What is the rhetorical and symbolic effect produced by the knowledge that Barlo is both a prophet and a profiteer? How does this continue to enhance Toomers treatment of Christianity? How might Barlos status as the best cotton picker inform our understanding of Esthers conflicting feelings about him? 3)What does dictie mean? What multiple prejudices are being invoked with its use? How does the invocation of these prejudices inform our understanding of both Esther and Barlos and the coarse woman[s] treatment of her? How does this help us understand Barlos repeated claim that This aint the place fer y? 4)What purpose does the almost comical marking of dialect serve in this passage? To what multiple communities and tensions between these communities does it point? 5)The second arc of Cane cane will be dominated by missed connections. What ate the causes of misconnection in this passage and chapter? 6)Upon Esthers disenchantment with Barlo (her ginal state in a story that offers a progression of desire and disgust), she is struck deaf, described as a somnambulist for who there is no air, not street and for who the town has disappeared. How do you make sense of Esthers thorough encasement in her own mind by the storys end?
Portrait in Georgia Hair--braided chestnut. coiled like a lynchers rope, Eyes--fagots, Lips--old scars, or the first of red blisters, Breath--lost to the sweet sent of cane, And her slim body, white as ash of black flesh after flame. Talking Points 1)The manners in which the portrait of this Southern lady is described is quite telling. What form of violence is invoked by this description? How does it offer a commentary on gender and racial terrorism in Toomers Georgia? 2)Are there spectres of multiple victims in this poem? If so, how are they, and how would you describe their victimization? 3)Portrait prefigures Blood Burning Moon where we encounter a graphic depiction of lynching. However, the two frames (or reasons that surround the lynchings as we will see differ dramatically). What is the persona implying about why lynching happens by describing the portrait in this way? 4)What is the effect produced by the symbolic import that the persona is literally describing a portrait as opposed, to say, a photograph?
Blood Burning Moon Drag him to the factory, Wood and stakes already there. Tom moved in the direction indicated, But the had to drag him. They reached the great door. Too many to get in there. The mob divided and flowed around the walls to either side. The big man shoved him through the door. The mob passed in from the sides. Taut humming. No words, A stake was sunk into the ground. Rotting floor boards piled on it. Kerosene pored on the rotting floorboards. Tom was bound to the stake, His heart was bare. Nails scratches little lies of blood trickle down and into his hair. His face, his eyes were set and stony, Except for irregular breathing, one would have thought him already dead.[….] The mob yelled. Its yell echoed against the skeleton stone walls and sounded like a hundred yells, Like a hundred mobs yelling.. Its yell thudded against the thick front wall and fell back. Ghost of a yell slipped through the flames and out of the great door of the factory [….] Louisa, upon the step from home, did not hear it, but her eyes opened slowly. They saw a full moon glowing in the great door, The full moon, an evil thing, an omen, soft showering the homes of folk she knew. Where were they, these people? Shes sing, and perhaps theyd come out and join her. Perhaps Tom Burwell would come. An any rate, the full moon in the great door was an omen which she must sing to Red nigger moon. Sinner! Blood-burning-moon. Sinner! Come out the factry door. Important fact- At the time of Canes composition, Walter White was conducting extensive economic and sociological studies that proved most lynching was not the outcome of any sexual transgression, but rather the result of racism playing-out in a scarce job market. Toomer was well aware of Whites preliminary findings. 1)Recall that it is Bob Stones jealousy of Tom Burwell that leads him to attack Tom, to his death, and, ostensibly, to Toms lynching. Also recall the narrative point that Tom is in love with Louisa but also fears being paired with her because he fears a further loss of social status (his family has already fallen quite a bit for other reasons). Given these factors, in conjunction with his superior class and race status vis-à-vis Tom, what do you make of his decision to try to stab Tom? How does it further develop Toomers treatment of the intersecting themes of class, racism, and miscegenation? In other words, what commentary is made by having Bob act as he does (and for the reason he does) when he attacks Tom? 2)What do you make of the the symbolic import that Bobs throat is slit (his head cut off)? What does it suggest about Tom (who is second only to Barlo in strength in the novel? How does Bobs decision to use a knife (in light of Toms conviction for knifing someone) cast additional symbolic light on the act? 3)What is the irony of Toms name? How does this irony represent a refashioning of an old stereotype, and describe the nature and implications of this refashioning? Where does this refashioning metaphorically reposition Bob? 4)How would you describe the factory in question, and to what aspects of the passage would you point to support your argument? Given its nature, what does the nature of the factory suggest about the socio-economic conditions and their relationship to lynching in Toomers Georgia? 5)Tom suffers through his lynching in a manner suggestive of another figure? Who is this figure, how do you know, and what is the metaphorical resonance of this tie? What purpose does this tie serve, and how does it continue Toomers treatment of the theme of Christianity? What does it suggest about the relationship between Christianity and Racial terrorism? 6)Like Becky and Karintha, we know very little of Louisa. She is more of a symbol than a fleshed-out character. What do you make of the meta-textual stakes involved in Toomers decision to portray her as such? How does it speak to the novels ongoing critique of the inadequacy of contemporary gender roles? What role does the fact that Louisa is a symbol, or more of an object to fight over than a person, play in all of this? And, finally, how does it help us to account of Louisas lost in the symbolic, for her vision of full moon glowing in the factory? What is the significance Louisas ability to perceive these events only in symbolic terms? Is her ignorance simply a matter of not knowing whats happening? Or does it point to something more? If so what? 7)What do you make of Louisas song? What are the multiple ironies at work? What effect is produced by the invocation of dialect in the final line? 8)Describe the work accomplished by the manner of narrative and thematic progression of the novels first arc.
Arc 2 The Ascent North The second section (Rhobert, Avey, Beehive, Storm Ending, Theater, Box Seat,Prayer, Harvest Song and Bona and Paul) was written on request from Toomers publisher, and takes place in the North, in Washington D.C. and Chicago. It focuses on urban life in all its flurry, and also on a series of romances that fail because of internalized Racism, the awkward position of the Southern transplant, and the internalization of class prejudices.
Seventh Street h Talking Points 1)Note that Seventh Street is a mix of poetry and prose. Note that the poem in question repeats, and that the prose that occupies the middle-ground does less work to describe Seventh Street (its dizzying fast paced urban- life) than does the poem. 2)How would you describe this poem? Does it offer a narrative? If not, what does it offer? And what is the metaphorical import of this offering? 3)What is the effect produced by manner in which the prose depicts Seventh Street? Does the prose voice describe the locale in consistent terms, or does it seem to shift back in forth? If so, what is the effect of this shift? 4)What is the rhetorical effect produced by the repeated phrase Who set you flowing? How does it alter the narrative voice (what person is speaking here)? What effect does the anonymity of the speaker produce? 5)What is suggested by the phrase a Nigger God! He would duck his head in shame…?
Avey H Talking Points 1)Keep in mind these plot points. That is the years prior to this event: the narrator has fantasized about Avey, and was voyeuristically obsessed with her. Also remember that theyve dated before, and that the narrator interpreted her lack of affection as a sign of being too lazy for commitment. 2)What effect does Toomer produce by having Avey fall asleep as the narrator opines on the failures and shortcomings of gender roles in Washington? 3)Why have the narrators passion die at this moment? How does it inform the argument that gender politics have skewed his vision? 4)What do you make of this simile: the Capital Dome as gray ghost ship? How does it provide a comment on the narrators masculinity? How does this commentary help us to understand why, at the very moment he becomes paternal, he labels Avey and Orphan-woman….?
Box Seat k Talking Points 1)Keep in mind this plot point: that Dan has tried to force himself on Muriel and that he is now stalking her. 2)Describe the difference in how Muriel and Dan view Mr. Barry? What commentary does the fact that Dan views Barry as a rival provide? How does it make us think about his masculinity? How does the fact that Dan, in essence, forgets to fight complicate matters, with respect to the masculine, still further? 3)Keep in mind that it is Dan who imagines the plea that emanates from Mr. Barrys eyes. What is the rhetorical effect produced by the self-fight engendered when Dan cries out JESUS WAS ONCE A LEPER! How does this vexed invocation of Christianity help us to further understand the contours of Dans masculinity, and how does it serve to further implicate Christianity in the ongoing gender critique at work in the novel?
Prayer k Talking Points 1)Describe the presentation of the body in this meditation on the soul? Is it consistent? If not, describe the nature of the inconsistencies. Does these inconsistencies seem out of place? If so, why? 2)How does this prayer function as a crtique of Dualism, and, by extension, Christianity? How is this critique manifest in the poems final line?
Bona And Paul Hair-- Talking Points 1)Keep in mind that Paul, a mulatto, is having trouble accepting the fact that Bona, a Southern white woman, likes him? Also keep in mind that Bona has been made rather furious by Pauls seeming indifference. 2)Conjecture: What is Paul wrong about? What has led him astray? (Or) To what kind of racism Does Pauls dilemma speak? What is the metaphorical resonance of this form of racism leading to a near paralysis on Pauls part? 3)Describe the irony is Pauls decision to pull away from Bona and toward the doorman vis-à-vis the message of equality the doorman conveys? Given Pauls and his condition are we to believe him? 4)What is the symbolic importance of Bona leaving after the two men shake hands (in seeming agreement about the equality of petals)? Her actions seem justified given Pauls lack of affection. But is that all thats going on here?
Arc 3 Return to Descent The Descent South The third section is comprised of the novella Kabnis, the story of a mixed race man who goes to teach in Georgia and finds himself attracted b the beauty of the land, but repulsed by its people. After interacting wit the locals, Kabnis learns of lynching and becomes increasingly paranoid. He gives up on intellectual life after being fired and takes up physical labor. In the end, he is so degraded he cannot even stand on his own. It is this downtrodden state that brings the novel full circle, back to the downtrodden of Rural Georgia.
Kabnis I Hair-- Talking Points 1)How would you characterize the style of narration in the first paragraph? What does this style afford the reader? 2)What is the symbolic import of the fact that Ralph is enraptured by the landscape of rural Georgia and repulsed by the people who inhabit it? 3)Describe the multiple ways in which God is figured in Ralphs machinations? How do they help us read the lines Jesus, can you imagine it [….] Come, Ralph, old man, pull yourself together? What is the symbolic import, for the story (and novel) as a whole, of the fact that Ralph is already coming apart? How does this help us make sense of the description of him as a completely artificial? How is this description offered and what odd feature of the text does it invoke? What do you make out of of this composite? Is its use simply playful, or does it speak to something more? If more, what is the strategy behind this composite style?
Kabnis II Hair-- Talking Points 1)Keep in mid that, for Ralph, this is the beginning of the end. His fear of lynching will lead him to drink, this n leads him to abandon his intellectual life (in the wake of being fired), and take up manual labor (the proper place for Blacks in the South), and to his incapacity to even stand on his own. Why do you think Halsey feels hes doing Ralph a favor by having Layman relate this story? 2)Describe the rhetorical effects produced by this Black preacher referring to a murdered, pregnant Black woman as a cow? How does this help us to read the de facto determinism in the following line, but a nigger baby aint supposed t live.? 3)How is this passage a conflation of the natural with the abhorrent, and what effect does that produce? 4)The brick that comes through the window carries a message that Halsey will echo when he hires Ralph? What is the multiple significance of this echo?
Kabnis III Talking Points 1)Halsey is a survivor. He also seems to stand in as an avatar for Booker T. Washington (whereas Ralph is a failed Du Bois [who also taught in poor southern schools]). With all this in mind, how would you characterized his Janus-faced nature as it is revealed in this passage? Is he a two-face? If so, are we to view him as a hypocrite? If not, how are we to view him? 2)Hanby also seems to stand in as an avatar for Booker T. Washington, and is also Janus-faced? Is his Janus face different from Halseys? If so, why? 3)Halsey thinks Hanbys theatrics (his acting white) will get him killed, but tellingly not lynched. What are the multiple metaphorical resonances vis- à-vis Ralphs decent of the method Hanby thinks they will use to kill Halsey? 4)Is there a Larsen-esque/ Johnsonesque political critique at work here? If so is it the same one?
Kabnis IV Talking Points 1)Keep in mind these four things things. That Lewis literally describes Father John as a symbol, that he is old enough to be a former slave, that Ralph has just had a screaming match with him akin to a fight with his own conscience, and that Ralph is trying to seduce Carrie (to get her to sin) with this argument. 2)Keeping the novels title in mind, what do you make of Ralphs lines Im the victim of their sin. Im what sin is? And how does this help us make sense of the fact that Father John does not look shocked to Ralph (despite the fact that his state is a textbook state of shock until he speaks)? 3)What do you make out of Father Johns re-articulation of sin. How does it converge and depart from Ralphs? How does it drive the nail in the coffin of Toomers critique of Christianity? 4)How does Ralphs line resonate with that of the narrator from Avey, and what do you make of the fact that Carrie is not seduced, but rather becomes a maternal figure (she is the one who helps Kabnis to stand up)? How does this drive the nail in the coffin of Toomers gender critique? 5)By the books end, Ralph is reduced to a state of utter dependence, enforced ignorance, and licentiousness. How does, or does this, accomplish the aim of circularity that Toomer wanted for Cane? Are we indeed back where we started? Has our pilgramage made us any spiritual progress as did Dantes? If so, for whom? The reader?