“Always Your Heart”: Class Designs in Jean Toomer’s Cane

  • William Dow
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


Barbara Foley, one of the most astute of Toomer critics, has rightly argued that class has been seriously omitted in most Toomer criticism, “divest[ing] Toomer’s work of a crucial social and historical dimension” and that beginning with a “high modernist a priori lens,” most critics have, in trying to come to terms with Toomer’s “design,” sought “a representation largely untrammeled by specific historical reference” (“Washington” 312). By arguing that “class matters” in Toomer’s work, Foley has stressed that in “many readings” of Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), “race is decoupled from class: Toomer’s articulation of the problematic of racial identification is construed largely in isolation from considerations of economic power and social stratification” (“Washington” 291). But while seeking to establish the relation of “historical features” to “fictional features” (“Sparta” 748) and in making her case not to treat “the South of Cane as a mythic realm defying the incursions of history” (“Sparta” 748), Foley tends to fall into the inverse danger of setting some expectations for Toomer as author that overlook his own idiosyncratic contributions to political critique.2


Racial Identity Actual Reader Direct Address Folk Culture Race Riot 
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  1. 3.
    See Barbara Foley, “The New Negro and the Left,” in Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro ( Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2003 ), 1–69.Google Scholar

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© William Dow 2009

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  • William Dow

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