Entropy and equilibrium in Jean Toomer’s Cane AND The Peasant visionary, the dying God: sacrifice and rebirth in W. B. Yeats’s The wind among the reeds

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Matthew Michael Phillips (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Scott Romine

Abstract: My reading of Cane is based on Jean Toomer’s use of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics within the text in order to communicate his political aim of a racial equilibrium. Toomer uniquely defined his race as “purely American,” and this was the vision he had hoped to share with the nation by way of his text. He was inspired to write Cane after a stint in Sparta, Georgia, resulted in a formative encounter with what he called the “folk-spirit”—a cultural energy that, even at his first encounter, he found to be degenerating. My research shows that his hope for Cane was to show how the eventual heat-death in the text mirrors his conception of racial equilibrium for the nation. My analysis of the events in Cane shows that Toomer uses his text to lament the folk-spirit that he saw as precious yet inexorably linked to outmoded social and racial models. Toomer sought to dissolve racial barriers through his personal proclamation of his race as purely American, and Cane harbors the creative force of an author freshly inspired by the folk-spirit.My thesis shows that the central theme of Yeats’s The Wind Among the Reeds is one of creation through destruction. My work centers upon one of his lesser-known poems, “The Valley of the Black Pig,” but also focuses on other works from the volume, such as “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” as well as the poem turned play, The Shadowy Waters. I analyze how Yeats’s stylistic choices in his poems and plays reflect his intellectual processes at the time of their composition. The stability of bibliography allows me to read an imaginative context into these works while remaining grounded in evidence that is strongly supported by chronology and publication data. Much of the research that I have done makes use of both published and unpublished manuscripts of Yeats’s poems and plays. The information I glean from early drafts allows me to trace Yeats’s intellectual process through several revisions of each text. Through this method I am able to show that the regenerative cycles of creation through destruction—rebirth via sacrifice—in 1899’s The Wind Among the Reeds are the result of a creative process that Yeats began as early as 1884, with the composition of the earliest unpublished draft of his play The Shadowy Waters. He ultimately finds empowerment and stability of identity through the embodiment of diverse personae throughout his body of work.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Cane, Entropy, Rebirth, Toomer, Valley, Yeats
Toomer, Jean, $d 1894-1967. $t Cane
Entropy in literature
Yeats, W. B. $q (William Butler), $d 1865-1939. $t Wind among the reeds
Yeats, W. B. $q (William Butler), $d 1865-1939. $t Shadowy waters
Regeneration in literature
Sacrifice in literature

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