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Swan song of the South: Jean Toomer's Cane and an exploration of silence

Williams, Mitchel
Literary theorist J. Peter Moore founds his argument on silence and its function as a phenomenon in African American social life by analyzing the poetry of Amiri Baraka and theorists of African American literature. Moore ultimately compartmentalizes silence into three forms with which to frame Baraka's use of silence in his poetry. Just as Moore discusses silence in relation to the works of Amiri Baraka, I investigate the motif of silence in Jean Toomer's modernist epic, Cane. Likewise, I posit that one can apply Moore's framework for looking at silence to understand the nuances of Toomer's rhetoric regarding issues of race in the United States. While Moore's first form of silence is found throughout Cane, Toomer alters the context in which the remaining two forms function. Silence certainly indicates a tactical withholding on behalf of the book's non-White characters; however, as opposed to withholding from a second party, these characters withhold information from themselves as means to better align with socially acceptable modes of thought and action. Lastly, each of Toomer's characters are forlorn, lacking the mutual understanding one would expect of a comradely relationship. Nevertheless, all forms of silence in Cane serve to convey the social and internal struggles that one experiences as an African American person in the United States.