During the torrential storm that ultimately thwarts Gabriel's rebellion, Ben sits in the house with Marse Sheppard and thinks about their relationship, how much they understand one another and how satisfied they are together. All of this in the third person; until he begins to think about his freedom and what that means.
Then suddenly another thought shouted in his head.Here, the narration moves into Ben's head as he considers his relationship with Marse Sheppard and whether or not he should even think about freedom. Bontemps moves seamlessly from the third person narrator into Ben's head for a stream-of-consciousness section. Ben begins by asking himself questions regarding Sheppard's respect for him then moves into the past thinking about the way Sheppard treated his family, selling them when they were old enough to work in the fields. Ben's thoughts, however, get interrupted when Sheppard asks him for the "toddy bowl," and the narrator returns to third person, providing an overview of the action. Bontemps does this periodically throughout the novel, delving into the thoughts of multiple characters as he tells the story of Gabriel Prosser's failed insurrection.
Licking his spit because he done fed you, hunh? Fine nigger you is. Good old Marse Sheppard, hunh? Is he ever said anything about setting you free? He wasn't too good to sell them two gal young-uns down the river soon's they's old enough to know the sight of a cotton-chopping hoe. How'd he treat yo' old woman befo' she died? And you love it, hunh? Anything what's equal –
"Get the toddy bowl, Ben."
"Yes, suh." (94)
In "Bona and Paul," Toomer incorporates interior monologue, delving into the character's thoughts to illuminate the action taking place. At the very beginning of the story, Bona watches Paul dance dance during class.
Bona: He is a candle that daces in a grove swung with pale balloons.
Columns of the drillers thud towards her. He is in the front row. He is in no row at all. Bona can look close at him. His red-brown face —
Bona: He is a harvest moon. He is an autumn leaf. He is a nigger. Bona! But dont all the dorm girls say so? And dont you, when you are sane, say so? That's why I love — Oh, nonsense. You have never loved a man who didnt first love you. Besides — (70)
What are some other novels that employ this technique? What is its purpose? How does this technique relate to modernism, which both authors were a part of? Let me know in the comments below.
Bontemps, Arna. Black Thunder. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968. Print.
Toomer, Jean. Cane. New York: Liveright, 1975, Print.