Jean Toomer, Mulatto and Modernist: the Fused Race and Fused Form of Cane

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-05-18 03:49Z by Steven

Jean Toomer, Mulatto and Modernist: the Fused Race and Fused Form of Cane

Oklahoma State University
May 1997
76 pages

Rhonda Lea McClellan

Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate College of the Oklahoma State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF ARTS


In the fall of 1993, I enrolled in Dr. Leavell’s modern/contemporary literature course that examined familiar “novels” under a different form, the short story cycle. We discussed how familiiar texts, like Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Faulkner’s Go Down Moses, and Hemingway’s In Our Time, labeled by critics as novels, could be viewed under the definitions of a different genre. As we analyzed this genre, I thought how vulnerable art and artists are at the hands of critics who define pieces based on literary traditions. Chagrined, I thought of the pieces of literature that I could have misread.

When we finally turned the pages of Jean Toomer’s Cane and examined the pioneering strategies of this modern writer, the consequences of misleading critiques became apparent to me. Rarely do we read of the Harlem Renaissance without seeing the name Jean Toomer. Accordingly, scholars contend that Toomer contributed to the awakening of the African-American experience in the 1920s and that his Cane secured his place in the African American canon.

But after reading biographical sketches, I found that Toomer, as an orphaned mulatto, rarely felt as if he belonged to any racial category. Moving between both black and white, rich and poor, young and old, Toomer knew little about securing his social position. He defined race as a social institution, an unjust categorization of Americans, creating a prejudice and fragmented society. Toomer, therefore, refused to be placed within these confines. As a result of my reading, I believe that Toomer’s social “drifting” is his personal illustration that Americans should not feel restricted to social categories and that Americans do not lead isolated lives but actually share a common experience-alienation. In fact, as an ostracized young man, he found only one way to find peace within his world, and that peace came from writing. His alienation gave Toomer an objective perspective that lead to his social and literary philosophies.

From Dr. Leavell’s emphasis on the importance of literary form and theme, I realized that critics fail to understand Cane’s structure relative to its theme. If critics did not apprehend Toomer’s racial ideology presented in Cane, how could they interpret the significance of the text’s structure? A man who would not be confined to one race could not limit his art to conventions of one culture. In Cane, Toomer fuses the art forms of the African-American with the European.

I see Toomer, a man eventually marginalized because of his racial ambiguity, creating a text, Cane, that follows the traditions of American literary pursuits. In the tradition of Franklin, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Whitman, Toomer attempts to create an American character and structure. Toomer’s mulatto represents modern man, and he presents these isolated characters in a modern, fragmented society. He fuses his racial ideology into Cane’s structure. Like its multi-racial characters, Cane’s structure depends on the aesthetic conventions of many races. Toomer’s literary innovations with form and theme make him a Modernist. Because of his ethnicity, however, Toomer found his text as much on the periphery as himself.

After Toomer voiced his racial views and his literary aspirations, scholars would contend that Toomer “deserted his people.” I maintain that readers misinterpret Cane’s projection of his mixed-race characters and the significance of its multi-cultural form. Critics have not fully understood Toomer or Cane. Toomer’s views blur lines that critics fail to reevaluate.

After examining Toomer and his text, I can appreciate the complexity of a man who refused categorization and a book that evades literary classification. In the first chapter, I will place Toomer in American literary traditions and provide biographical details that influenced his social views. In the second chapter, I will discuss Toomer’s racial and social ideology and its impact on Cane. In the third chapter, I will focus on the theme and structure of Cane’s prose. In the fourth chapter, my focus will shift to the merging of Cane’s poetic theme and structure. Opposing other critics who have placed Toomer in the African-American canon, I propose that Jean Toomer, who was influenced by white Modernist writers, such as Anderson and Frank, experiments with a national character-the mulatto-and a national form-a structure blending the art forms of the African American and European American-and writes within the broader traditions of American literature.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Interracialism and Contemporary Religion

Posted in Dissertations, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Religion, Social Work, United States on 2011-07-16 02:48Z by Steven

Interracialism and Contemporary Religion

Oklahoma State University
105 pages
AAT 1443028

Wayne S. White

Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate College of the Oklahoma State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

The purpose of this study was to examine the myths and theories related to interracial couples regard to contemporary religious institutions. This study is an exploratory in Nature and focused primarily on the acceptance of heterosexual biracial (Black/White) couples within a religious setting. The methodology used for the purpose of this study was content analysis of literature that was important to the framing of topic from a historical perspective to the present. Method techniques were also borrowed from social constructionism and labeling theory when analyzing the literature.

The findings of this research project found that religious mythologies and social theories about the nature of interracial marriage among Black/White couples continues to be problematic for religious mixed race couples. These myths and theories are based on the assumption that biracial couples are a threat to a well established White dominant racial hierarchy. Furthermore, the socially constructed image of interracial couples that emerges from these myths and theories become the basis of racist ideology without hard empirical evidence to support these assertions. Nevertheless, the cultural assumption still exist among the general public and within some religious institutions and have real life consequences for some mixed race couples. Thus the social construction of reality is ongoing for some interracial couples. This research is important because it provides insight into human behavior and actions within an institution whose inner workings are often private while outwardly claiming to be accessible to everyone without prejudice.

Table of Contents

    • Definition of Terms
    • Purpose of the Study
    • Contribution to Sociology
    • Preview of the Remaining Chapters
    • Introduction
    • Religion and Racism
    • Contemporary Myths and Theories
    • Summary
    • Introduction
    • Discussion of Social Construction
    • Discussion of Contact Theory
    • Summary
    • Introduction
    • Content Analysis of Literature
    • Sampling Technique
    • Themes and Classifications
    • Authors’ Approach & Perspectives
    • Religious Opposition to Interracial Relationships
    • Coping Mechanism of Interracial Couples
    • Interracial Congregations as the Answer to Racism
    • Connecting Theory To Findings
    • Limitation of the Study & Future Implications


  • Tables
    1. Chapter and Subheadings Discussing Myths and Theories about Blacks and Interracial Relationships
    2. Authors’ Approach and Perspectives
    3. Participation in Racially Diverse Worship
    4. Methods of Discouraging Interracial Relationships by Religious Leaders
    5. Coping Mechanisms of Interracial Couples
  • Figures
    1. Factors Determining Interracial Contact
    2. Mythologies and Theories Found in Texts
    3. Discussion of Race Relations in Society
    4. Whites Not As Accepting of Interracial Dating


Some contemporary Christian leaders use their pulpits to discourage heterosexual interracial relationships while others use their influence to vocalize support for racial intermarriage. A White pastor of a multiracial church in Tulsa, Oklahoma informed his daughter while she was in kindergarten (when he came home and found a little African American boy there), “Hey look we’re friends, we play, we go together in groups but we do not date one another. We don’t mix our races” (Price 2001:32).

The minister in this example based his objection to mixed race relationships on theological grounds, saying interracial marriages are a direct violation of the Word of God (Price 2001:33-34). But he also argued racial intermarriage ought to be opposed by the Black community as a matter of racial pride and on the basis of racial purity. He said,

“There’s only 13% of the population that is your color. If we continue to mix it (there) ain’t going to be none of you left. There ain’t nobody going to be able to say Black is beautiful; they’re going to have to say mixed is beautiful” (Price 2001:38).

What this example illustrates is that segregationist notions about race are constructed from religious ideology. The construction of separatist ideology is an attempt to dictate what constitute legal and illegal sexual contact between Blacks and Whites. Historically the prohibiting of interracial relationships between Blacks and Whites was presented as being for the good of society (Chappell 1998:237-262; Hughey 1987: 23-34).

For example, Kevin Strom (2000)vargues that race mixing is a crime worse than murder. He wrote:

“When you commit murder you kill one man, you end one life: you tragically injure one family and circle of friends. When you commit murder, if your victim has had no children you do cut off the potential existence of one small branch of the (white) race’s future. But when you commit the crime of racial mixing you are participating in genocide.” (Strom 2000:30-31)

Contrary to Strom’s position scholars like Yancey (2002) and Campolo (2005) come to the defense of racial intermarriage. They do not see society being harmed by race mixing nor do they find any theological grounds for opposing interracial marriage. Rather they suggest there are certain scriptures which actually support heterosexual interracial relationships. Yancey (2002) claims that Christ has removed any racial barrier between ethnic groups (Yancey 2002:16-17)2. Campolo cites Galatians 3:283 as another proof text for support of interracial marriages and integrated congregations (Campolo 2005: vii-xi).

This research project is an exploratory work on the role of Christianity and society in the debate on interracial relationships. The purpose of this research is to examine the formal and informal institutional structures and the social practices that either impede or facilitate biracial couples ability to find a welcoming place to worship despite the fact there is no legal basis for opposing interracial marriages. In examining social interaction between religious biracial couples and the religious world, this paper examines the coping mechanisms of mixed race couples and the effectiveness of contact theory in reducing racial prejudice and discrimination. I expect the literature to show that some biracial couples in the face of religious opposition cease their religious practice, while others may continue their search until they find a congregation where they are accepted or experience a measure of tolerance.

The literature will show that through fear of mixed race relationships between Blacks and White’s monochromatic congregations were formed in an effort to prevent interracial relationships and to promote social segregations. This material will also demonstrate the efforts of those Christian leaders who support racial intermarriage as a way of solving racial problems in American society. It will examine the notion that biracial congregations are one way of obtaining racial reconciliation through social contact because they promote inclusiveness (Becker 1998:451-472; Bryan 2000: 25-27; DeYoung 2004:128-147; Dougherty 2003)…

Read the entire dissertation here.

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