Cane: “Bona and Paul”

“White lights, or as now, the pink lights of the Crimson Gardens gave a glow and immediacy to white faces. The pleasure of it, equal to that of love or dream, of seeing this. Art and Bona and Helen? He’d look. They were wonderfully flushed and beautiful. Not for himself; because they were. Distantly. Who were they, anyway? God, if he knew them. He’d come in with them. Of that he was sure. Come where? Into life? Yes. No. Into the Crimson Gardens. A part of life. A carbon bubble.”

Jean Toomer, Cane (New York: Liveright, 2011), 102.

Focusing on Paul’s observations of the lighting in the room and the “white faces” around him, Toomer illustrates Paul’s realization that he, aside from the man at the door, is the only black person in the room. Writing that Art, Helen, and Bona are beautiful not for just Paul, but “because they were,” Toomer points that Paul, aware of his racial difference, finds white standards of beauty and his exclusion from it to be fact. Paul is with them only “distantly” because their whiteness excludes him from actually being a part of their group. The series of questions and the contradiction of the “Yes” and “No” reflect Paul’s insecurities of fitting into the party setting. And if the Crimson Gardens is a “part of life” or a “carbon bubble,” then Paul’s lack of belonging and awareness of difference are characteristic of his everyday life and of rest of the text as well.