Jean Toomer was an important contributor to the development of American literature and philosophy. He was also a significant personality in the development of the Harlem Renaissance.
A future writer was born in a family that consisted of a planter Nathan Toomer and a daughter of the former governor of Louisiana Nina Pinchback. Soon after the birth of his son, the father left the family. In order to survive and to bring up the child in the appropriate financial conditions the mother asked Jean Tommer’s grandfather, a strict and demanding person, for help The man agreed to help his relatives, however, insisted on changing his grandson’s name. As a consequence, born as Nathan Pinchback Toomer, the writer became Eugene Pinchbank Toomer. Soon the name was shortened to Jean.
Toomer did not obtain any degree. However, he studied in several colleges and universities. While studying he visited the lectures on psychology, philosophy, literature. At this period Toomer started the friendship with Hart Crane, Alfred Stieglitz and others. In 1922 in order to present his theoretical point of view, he wrote a poem “The First American” in which Toomer fully expressed his views concerning a new idealistic way of society’s formation. The aforementioned work presented Americans as a new transforming race, the main purpose of which was to unite all the human creatures into one nation.
In 1923 Toomer became interested in the Eastern culture and started to examine the main ideas of philosophy and theosophy. Toomer considered the mind as the main link between the person and humankind. Moreover, the author was deeply interested in symbolism and imagism. It was Baudelaire who fostered the development of symbolic views in Toomer’s ideology. The style of his works had considerably influenced Toomer’s manner of writing. Imagists’ aesthetics had also impressed the writer, mainly because it was different from other art currents, it offered a new way of art perception, which exactly coincided with Toomer’s ideas.
One of the most significant works of the writer was the novel “Cane”. It was written in 1923 and was profoundly influenced by Toomer’s travels to Georgia, where he deeply emerged into African-Americans culture. The novel consisted of three parts. In the first section the action happened in the southern part of America and six women are portrayed. The author contemplated the poor conditions of life and labor in which the characters had to live in order to survive. In the second part the plot shifted to the Northern part, where the writer vividly depicted a new social and economical system of the postwar society. The events in the third part happened in the South and aimed to describe a figure of an artist.
In 1923 Toomer was under a strong influence of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff’s idealistic ideas. The following year also indicated the start of the most productive period of Toomer’s art. The volume “Lost and Dominant”, essay “Lettre D’Amerique”, novel “Caromb” and other prominent works appeared in this extent of time. The period lasted until 1935, the year when Toomer distanced from Gurdjieff because of a serious misunderstanding.
After a quarrel with Gurdjieff, Toomer got involved into Quaker philosophy, which declared the existence of God in every person. In 1939 the author traveled throughout India and started to write “The Angel Begori”, a novel which emphasized the significance of spiritual search. Most of Toomer’s works composed from 1940 and 1950 were influenced by Quakerism. The most prominent writings of the period were poems “The Promise”, “They Are Not Missed”, essays “Blessing and Curse”, “The Presence of Love”. Since 1950 and until the writer’s death not any of his works was published. Suffering from plague, Toomer died in 1967.
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