“Kabnis is about to shake his fists heavenward. He looks up, and the night’s beauty strikes him dumb. He falls to his knees. Sharp stones cut through his thin pajamas. The shock sends a shiver over him. He quivers. Tears mist his eyes. He writhes.”

Toomer, Jean. “Kabnis.” Cane. New York: Liverright, 2011. 83. Print.

This scene seems very slowed down, taking the reader through the experience exactly how Kabnis most likely experienced it. By using broken up sentence fragments, like “tears mist his eyes”, Toomer brings the reader closer to the experience. We can feel the “night beauty strike us dumb”. Toomer’s suggested purpose of putting the reader’s through this African American teacher’s life, attempting to get as close to Kabnis’ true feelings as possible, is achieved through this short, fragmented style of writing.


“Ralph Kabnis, propped on his bed, tries to read. To read himself to sleep. An oil lamp on a hair near his elbow burns unsteadily. The cabin room is spaced fantastically about it. Whitewashed hearth and chimney, black with sooty saw-teeth.”

Toomer, Jean. “Kabnis.” Cane. New York: Liveright, 2011. 111. Print.

Ralph tries “to read himself to sleep” to immerse himself in a story that is not his own. The unsteadily burning lamp is like his life, and his mind, always on edge. He recognizes that his room is whitewashed physically, as his society is whitewashed with white people in charge. His own life is tainted with “black… sooty-saw teeth.” Even he perceives blackness as being bad. This says a lot about how his mind has been whitewashed.


“Whats beauty anyway but ugliness if it hurts you? God, he doesnt exist, but nevertheless He is ugly. Hence, what comes from Him is ugly. Lynchers and business men, and that cockroach Hanby, especially.”

Kabnis really contradicts himself in these few lines. In the beginning of this passage he is on his knees calling for God to take away the beauty in the world and only leave him with the ugly. Then, in these few sentences he resents God and now believes that God does not exist. He also puts lynchers and business men on the same ‘ugly’ level which I find a little disturbing because clearly lynchers are worse. Readers can truly see how distraught Kabnis is at this point in the section.

Toomer, Jean. “Kabnis.” Cane. New York: Liveright, 2011. 114. Print.