Winesburg, Ohio

Thematic Structures in Cane and Winesburg, Ohio College

“Life is swift, and the value of life is the value of every moment.” -Waldo Frank

Out of all the readings for this class, this sentiment is expressed strongest in the works of Jean Toomer and Sherwood Anderson. Cane and Winesburg, Ohio are books of moments, and Toomer and Anderson use universal themes to weave these moments together into sums that are greater than their parts. Toomer uses a cycle of spiritual slumber and awakening, and Anderson uses simplistic narrative forms, a common setting, and a vital prologue and ending to tell parables of idealistic truths and the people that stake their identities to them. The central conflict in Cane is the struggle for spiritual identity, and the central conflict in Winesburg, Ohio is the inability to communicate and the subsequent failure to combat alienation. Both of these books are about the desire for something that is impossible to attain, and in this regard they share the same spirit.

When Jean Toomer finished Cane, he sent a manuscript to Waldo Frank. After reading it, he wrote to Toomer: “From three angles, Cane’s design is a circle…From the point of view of the spiritual entity behind the work, the curve really starts with Bona and Paul (awakening), plunges into ‘Kabnis’,...

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