THE WAYWARD AND THE SEEKING: A Collection of Writings by Jean Toomer

THE WAYWARD AND THE SEEKING: A Collection of Writings

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Autobiography, some fiction, poetry, two plays, and a sprinkling of maxims from the author of Cane (1923), that impressionistic, off-center, evocative book recently rediscovered and appreciated for its subtle treatment of the black reality in the early 20th century. The trouble with all this additional material, however, is that Toomer, soon after writing Cane, came totally under the spell of the doctrines of Gurdjieff--and nothing he wrote thereafter was free of a heavy, didactic purpose. The autobiographical sections are the least polluted; Toomer grew up in Washington, D.C., under the influence of his strong-minded grandfather, P. B. S. Pinchbeck (there's a name for you!), and it was a childhood filled with the ambiguities of race for the very high-yellow Jean. The poetry, though, unfortunately sinks back into dictum: ""Growth is by admixture from less to more,/ Preserving the great granary intact,/ Through cycles of death and life,/ Each stage a pod,/ Perpetuating and perfecting/ An essence identical in all."" One of the plays, ""Natalie Mann,"" is unusual and notable for its early serious treatment of the black middle-class, but as drama it's noisome: ""We all have shells,"" one character declaims, ""but they do not always contain us. Sometimes we break through. Society hammers us back, and wagging tongues stitch ugly seams. They say set bones are stronger than unbroken ones. Souls grow like that."" Of interest to scholars, not enthusiasts.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Howard Univ. Press