Toomer's Seventh Street, Depicts Life and Issues in the Prohibition Period
Toomer captures very deep thoughts in his writing in fairly simple language. The way he works his ideas into the text is amazing. In "Seventh Street," an excerpt from his larger work, Cane, Toomer blends ethnic ideas together while speaking about issues that involve the whole public spectrum.
He begins with a four-line verse that draws the reader in and helps him to visualize the setting.
Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,
Bootleggers in silken shirts,
Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,
Whizzing, whizzing down the street-car tracks.
The world Toomer is speaking about seems very busy and fast-paced. He uses street imagery to create the feeling of excitement and energy. In these first few lines of text, he brings up the topic of Prohibition indirectly. He talks of how the bootleggers, those who find a way to get their hands on alcohol and then sell it illegally, are quite wealthy and drive up and down Seventh Street in their Cadillacs with their nice clothes and their money almost burning holes in their pockets. The last line is significant in that he makes the point that they are driving down the street-car tracks in Cadillacs. It seems as though he is making the distinction between the elite and the people of lesser means.
In the beginning of the prose section, Toomer describes Seventh Street as the "bastard of Prohibition and the War." Seventh Street is a product of Prohibition and World War I merged together. He goes on to describe how Prohibition and World War I affect the events and the people who live on this street. The people feel as if too many rights are being taken away from them with the onset of Prohibition. They feel as if they ought to be able to drink at their pleasure and that the government should be okay with that. He describes the African-Americans on the street as "crude-boned" and "soft-skinned," implying that the people have a base in being natural and real and therefore they are soft-skinned, meaning they are beautiful, interesting people who naturally want to celebrate and enjoy life. They breathe a "loafer air," and are therefore quite laid-back and easy-going in their way of life.
On the other hand, the people in Washington, the government officials and all those who support Prohibition are described as dull and boring. He describes the blacks' presence in Washington as "thrusting unconcscious rhythms, black reddish blood into the white and whitewashed wood of Washington. Stale soggy wood of Washington." He uses the word blood to represent the livelihood and the energy of the blacks. Those who support Prohibition are described as "white and whitewashed wood of Washington." Therefore, they are seen as completely washed of life and energy. They are simply dry, boring people who do not understand...