Heavy Loads: Cane and the Burden of Discrimination College

Jean Toomer, in his novel Cane, compiles issues that plague the black community of the United States through the lens of characters who struggle with conflicts that arise because of racism in both the North and the South. These issues include grappling with masculinity, femininity, and gender roles, being biracial and not fitting into one solid community, and having dreams that are out of reach due to the oppressive white power structure in America. One story in particular in Cane that exposes the deeply painful effects that racial oppression and violence have on black Americans is Toomer’s “Kabnis.” Through Kabnis, an educated black male character who feels as if he cannot reach his dreams or rise to his full potential due to racial violence in the South, Jean Toomer sheds light on the consistently oppressive white power system in the United States that does not allow black people to rise to equality, even as they become scholars and artists.

Kabnis’ dilemma provides an example to what might—in the words of Langston Hughes—happen “to a dream deferred,” as Kabnis begins to lose his wits due to his inability to explore the beauty of the world, which is his true desire. As an educated black man from the North, Kabnis faces a...

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