Doing a close reading of Jean Toomer’s Theater allows us to see the binary of purity and corruption. This binary is a good signifier of the purity of emotions versus the corruption of the intellect.
In context, this piece gives privilege and importance to the need for emotions to not get clouded by the mind and intellect. John the ‘dictie’ and educated man can be seen struggling with his emotions and how freeing they are to his spirit inside. John fights to keep himself under control and works to allow his mind which has been expanded due to his education, to take the reins. There is a conflict between emotional purity along with raw feelings with intellectual corruption. Another way that purity and corruption can be seen here is in Dorris’ feelings towards John. Dorris’ feelings are pure and show such energy in contrast to John’s restraint. The purity seen in her thoughts, not clouded by ulterior motives, can also be contrasted to John’s corruption of lust for her. Dorris also struggles with her acceptance of John, purity and corruption a strong binary for her when one looks at her dancing versus her thinking.
This piece seems to favor purity over corruption due to its focus on raw emotions and feelings instead of having a base in logic and rationality of intellect. Theater takes the binary of purity and corruption and focuses them in the two main characters. The privilege of purity over corruption can be seen easily and in this time of social upheaval and change for African-Americans, purity was needed. Emotion’s purity filled the theater and the mind’s corruption fought against it in one man’s mind. Though the intellect won out in the end for John, Dorris looked to the purity of his dream until it was too late. Though she couldn’t have him, her purity and energy helped her obtain at least some small part of his inner self against the corruption of his mind and intellect.