Monday, February 2, 2009

Reapers: An industrial statement?

Jean Toomer’s poem Reapers in the novel Cane is full of dark imagery. The title of the poem: Reapers has a connotation of death and evil, such as the Grim Reaper, whose very touch will kill. We see death as a direct, striking image in the poem when “a field rat, startled, squealing, bleeds” (Reapers, line 6). A mower has run him over and slit him with its blade. The darkness of the poem is brought out literally in its words. Toomer starts out with the image of “Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones” (Reapers, line 1). This image of darkness is repeated later in the poem with “Black horses drive a mower through the weeds” (Reapers, line 5). The contrast between the “Black reapers” and the “Black horses” seems to be a shift in the poem from a time that is more reliant on field workers to a time that is more dependant on technology. The “Black reapers” in this view can be seen as slaves or workers harvesting out in the field. We get a sense of the monotony and physicality of their work when Toomer write “silent swinging, one by one.” (Reapers, line 4). However, when the horse drawn mower is introduced, we get the image of a “startled, squealing [rat that] bleeds” (Reapers, line 6). Instead of silence, the speaker focuses on the sound of the slashed rat. I think that Toomer is making a statement about the change that industrialization made on farms through these images. Farmers have less of a connection to their fields and their work now than they did when they had more physical labor throughout planting and harvesting.

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