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Race in Cane by Jean Toomer

            Jean Toomer's Cane was published in 1923, a miscellany composed of fifteen poems, seven stories, six prose vignettes and a play that all focus on Negro life during the 1920's. The book was focused on the primitive modern sense of what it meant to be an African-American during the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance spanned the 1920's and 'it was the period when the Negro was in vogue'.1 New York had become 'the capital of the black world'2 and Harlem was the site of black economic power and consciousness. What is now considered to be the Harlem Renaissance was termed the Negro Renaissance in its own time. The movement pushed for black self-assertion against white privilege and supremacy, advocated the term 'Negro' as a word of pride. Taking strides forward to move away from it's connotations of the late 19th and early 20th century, that black people were uneducated and almost sub-human. .
             The New Negro movement was a bi-product of the Harlem Renaissance, it was the result of the overlapping social and intellectual circles that were present in New York during the 1920's. However, these intersecting ideas and groups meant that The New Negro movement was not a cohesive one, but was loosely bound together with hopes for racial assertion and self-definition. Toomer wrote most of Cane during the summer of 1921, by Christmas the first draft of all sketches including Kabnis were complete. During the early 1920's when Toomer was writing there was much emphasis on becoming a 'New Negro', forging a new identity for ones self through the mediums of literature, art and music. Due to Cane's eclectic mixing of poetry and prose it was considered a New Negro text and is still considered a 'masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance'.3 Toomer did not want to be associated with the Harlem Renaissance or to be solely identified as a Negro writer, as he believed that 'there [was] a new race in America.

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