Nightwood/Historical Line

“—so I looked at Jenny’s possessions with scorn in my eye. It may have been all most ‘unusual,’ but who wants a toe-nail that is thicker than common? And that thought came to me out of the contemplation of the mad strip of the inappropriate that runs through creation, like my girl friend who married some sort of Adriatic bird who had such thick ones that he had to trim them with a horse-file—my mind is so rich that it is always wandering!”

Djuna Barnes. Nightwood (New York: New Directions, 2006), 111.

After taking a look at my old commonplaces, I noticed that pretty much all of the books we’ve read so far pay a lot of attention to inner life or thought, usually expressed through FID or stream of consciousness. And I think often, allowing the reader to access a character’s thoughts often allows for sympathy. For example, in Cane’s “Bona and Paul,” Toomer uses FID to mark Paul’s feelings of exclusion; the reader can then access his back and forth inner conflict with himself, even though he remains silent about it. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf pushes external events further into the background, and as I had noted in my commonplace, movement in and out of spaces gives way to free-flowing thoughts that negotiate past and present.  Alternating narrators in As I Lay Dying, Faulkner allows individual accounts to reveal information about the characters that do not make their way into speech, creating an even wider range of perspective. For example, the reader sees more clearly how strangely perceptive Darl’s character is through the way his narration seems able to access other character’s thoughts and know all the family’s secrets. While these texts certainly don’t treat inner life the same way, I think it’s notable that these thoughts remain just that, as they’re not placed into dialogue. What Barnes does differently in Nightwood is place the doctor’s line of thought into direct reported speech, even though his dialogue borders on stream of consciousness. Instead of privileging inner life and voice, Barnes makes the doctor’s inner monologue get in the way of his story and also carry on in spite of Nora’s crying. When the doctors unfiltered thoughts turn into speech, his words are silly and unnecessary ramblings.  A “wandering” mind for Barnes then is not “so rich,” and she seems to construct a narrative that is often indifferent to inner life or expression of thought.

Cane: “Box Seat”

“Through the cement floor her strong roots sink down. They spread under the asphalt streets. Dreaming, the streets roll over on their bellies, and suck their glossy health from them. Her strong roots sink down and spread under the river and disappear in blood-lines that waver south…The eyes of the woman don’t belong to her. They look at him unpleasantly” (85).

Using personification to animate body parts, in turn (ironically?) dehumanizing the referent of this description, that is, this specific black woman Dan sees in the audience. 

Toomer, Jean.”Box Seat.” Cane. New York: Liveright. 2011. 85. Print.


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.



“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.