Cane is a 1923 novel by noted Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer. The novel is structured as a series of vignettes revolving around the origins and experiences of African Americans in the United States. The vignettes alternate in structure between narrative prose, poetry, and play-like passages of dialogue. As a result, the novel has been classified as a composite novel or as a short story cycle. Though some characters and situations recur between vignettes, the vignettes are mostly freestanding, tied to the other vignettes thematically and contextually more than through specific plot details.
The ambitious, nontraditional structure of the novel – and its later influence on future generations of writers – have helped Cane gain status as a classic of modernism. Several of the vignettes have been excerpted or anthologized in literary collections, perhaps most famously the poetic passage "Harvest Song", included in several Norton poetry anthologies. The poem opens with the line: "I am a reaper whose muscles set at sundown."
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.