There are multiple binaries in Jean Toomer’s short story Theatre. The binary that I found the most interesting and thought-provoking in this specific story was that of motion vs. stillness or action vs. inaction. There is a strong contrast within the story between the characters. Dorris is up on the stage, performing the dance routine with the other female directors. John, the manager’s brother, is sitting motionless watching and judging the women as they dance. It is important to note from the footnotes provided in the book that Toomer believed that “individuals could express their emotions and their souls through dancing” (Theatre, pp. 54). Dorris then, through her dancing, is trying to suggest to John who she is. Toomer writes, “Dorris dances. She forgets her tricks. She dances. Glorious songs are the muscles of her limb” (Theatre, pp. 55). Dorris shows her interest in John by letting loose during her dance. She shows him how wild and sexual she can be with the gyrating of her hips in dance moves.
However, it is John’s stillness that ends up being the dominant binary in this story. Although the movements of Dorris’ dancing draw John’s glare and attention, he is not moved enough to act on his inner lust for her. Instead, he sits motionless and dreams about what it might be like to have Dorris for himself. Toomer writes that Dorris “searches for her dance in it [John’s face]. She finds it a dead thing in the shadow which is his dream’ (Theatre, pp. 56). John does not need the action of being intimate with Dorris, because she has let him do it inside of his head. Through his inactivity, he is still able to be with Dorris in his dream.
This is an interesting take on the binary of activity vs. inactivity. In a lot of media, it is the one who wishes and dreams that is left unfulfilled. The person that acts, in contrast, is usually seen as a hero.