Double Meaning In Jean Toomer's Cane

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In Jean Toomer’s three-part work, Cane, the reader is introduced in the first section to alternating short stories and poems. The first poem of Cane, “Reapers,” appears at a cursory glance to follow one of the themes of the novel: harvest. However, the ambiguity of the words offers alternate readings of the poem which enrich and enhance its original reading. In first reading “Reapers,” one can see how easy it is to suggest the poem is about harvest and agriculture. The reader is introduced to “Black reapers” that are “sharpening scythes.” The reapers then “start their silent swinging” while horses pull a mower through the field. A field rat accidentally gets struck by a blade and falls to the ground, bleeding. The reapers continue on with their work, seemingly unaware of the incident…show more content…
Thus, from a simple glance, the poem would appear to have a straight-forward meaning about an ordinary event. When one takes a second look, however, the double meanings within the text are revealed. “Black reapers…sharpening scythes” become ominously reminiscent of a more sinister character, the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper is usually described as wearing dark or black clothing and is often pictured as carrying a scythe. While the words “reapers” and “scythes” could refer to the people who harvest crops and the instruments by which crops are harvested, they also could refer to death and the stereotypical caricature of the Grim Reaper, the personification of death. The more ominous interpretation of the poem continues as the reapers begin their work, as they “start their silent swinging, one by one.” The phrase invokes an image of death going about indiscriminately, killing whomever “he” chooses. Again, the dark imagery associated with death is repeated with

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