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Monday, February 8, 2010

Jean Toomer's "Fern": A Reflection on Sexuality and Race

One of the many themes found in this short story is the role of sexuality among the different races in the South, and the different races in this piece are referring to blacks and whites. Several truths can be inferred about sexuality in the two races in a short passage that reads, “Now a virgin in a small southern town is by no means the usual thing, if you will believe me. That the sexes were made to mate is the practice of the South. Particularly, black folks were made to mate. And it is black folks whom I have been talking about thus far. What white men thought of Fern I can arrive at only by analogy. They let her alone” (17). Assuming that the narrator is omniscient and reliable, one can infer that sex was a common practice of nearly all blacks in the South. With virginity being an uncommon thing and the practice of mating being so common in the South particularly among black folks, it can be assumed that any given black person had engaged in sexual intercourse whether in or out of marriage. With this practice of the South being particular to black folks, it suggests that the sexual practices of whites were less frequent and that not the entire population was sexually active. One final aspect that involves both sexuality and race is the fact that the white men are not interested in Fern, a black girl of great beauty. Leading up to this passage, the narrator is describing men’s obsession with Fern, but the only men he is describing are black. White men are not interested in Fern which suggests that there is little or no sexual intercourse between the two races.

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