Friday, March 6, 2009

The Blood of Seventh Street

Jean Toomer's "Seventh Street," a short story/poem in Cane, features one recurring symbol I find especially important: blood.

The first use we see is the wedge that thrusts "black reddish blood into the white and whitewashed wood of Washington." This imagery marks an important contrast. To begin with, we have the "white" of Washington, and the "whitewashed," that which has been abducted by the white man. The "black reddish blood" is inserted into this, contrasting the status quo. We have "black" blood, referring to African Americans, but the metaphor takes it one step further with "reddish" implying perhaps that black blood is not quite as red, or human, as white blood. We again see the phrase "black reddish blood", this time standing alone as a sentence. This marks two important uses: one, repetition, to emphasize the image; and two, the phrase standing by itself, as an island of meaning within the text.

The next use is seen in the sentence, "Blood suckers of the War would spin in a frenzy of dizziness if they drank your blood." Here we have "blood suckers of the War" in contrast to "your blood." The former could refer to any number of things; perhaps it refers to people who benefited from the war. The benefactors of the war would have certainly been white businessman, as production went soaring during World War I. Here we see an image of drinking blood. And "your blood" is definitely black blood. Perhaps the "blood suckers" could not drink the black blood in the sense that they could not swindle the blacks, or else they would "spin in a frenzy of dizziness."

The third use of blood in the text incurs the already used image of "white" and "whitewash." Here we see that the whites and whitewash "disappears in blood." We also see that the sentence "Who set you flowing," a phrase that uses blood imagery, is set on either side of this earlier image. The phrase "who set you flowing?" also appears two more times in the text, marking more repetition than any other phrase in the text.

The flowing image is seen in the next paragraph when it refers to the blood flowing down Seventh Street, in "shanties, brick office buildings, theaters, drug stores, restaurants, and cabarets." Here we see the blood flowing, taking over Seventh Street: the rise of black power.

Another image is the "blood-red smoke" that rises towards the heavens, where the  buzzards fly.

The final image is the of God. Here, we see that "God would not dare to suck black red blood." The reddish image is abandoned finally but even so, black blood is not fit for God, for that would make him a "Nigger God," who "would duck his head in shame and call for the Judgement Day."

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