Cane

Eden and Egyptland: The Biblical South in Toomer's Cane and Ellison's Invisible Man 12th Grade

Both Jean Toomer and Ralph Ellison allude heavily to Old Testament imagery as they illustrate the Southern American landscape in their respective novels, Cane and Invisible Man. Toomer compares, through spirituals and spiritual-derived language, slavery's legacy in the South to the plight of the Hebrew slaves of Egypt. In this sense, he describes Christianity in the Southern U.S. as a mostly redemptive force that can, at best, lead black people out of hardship and, at worst, support the status quo of segregation. Ellison, on the other hand, depicts the Southern college at which the first part of the novel takes place as a false Eden that the narrator falls from. As the narrator's vision of blissful ignorance unravels, Ellison continues to employ religious metaphors in critiquing the lie of progress he had been taught. So, while Toomer more evenly highlights the good and bad aspects of Southern Christianity, both authors appropriate sermonic language to argue that the palliation of injustice by religious fervor holds back the Southern Black community nearly as much as white prejudice does.

Toomer sets his scene of the Biblical South with both poetic and vernacular references to pre-Exodus Egypt and the enslaved Israelites. One...

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