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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jean Toomer’s “Fern”: Why Do Men Feel Obligated To Fern After “Having Her?”

In Jean Toomer’s “Fern,” the reader learns that men are drawn to Fern, mostly because of her eyes. Fern’s eyes told the unqualified suitors that she was easy and ready to give herself to them; many men took advantage of her hypnotic gaze. “When she was young, a few men took her, but got no joy from it. And then, once done, they felt bound to her (quite unlike their hit and run with other girls)…” (Toomer 16). After these encounters, men felt an obligation of a lifetime to Fern, even though they got no enjoyment. Does the key really lie within her eyes? Much of the text suggests that her eyes cast “spells” upon men that normally feel no sense of obligation after “having” women. “A young Negro, once, was looking at her, spellbound, from the road” (17). The little sense of personality the reader can perceive about Fern comes from her eyes; there is no description of her actions, morals, etc. All perceptions of Fern stem from her gaze and her eyes. Such perceptions imply that men look into her eyes and believe whatever they want to believe. Since her “face flowed into her eyes” (16), no other aspects of her face matter. By looking into her eyes as if they are in a spell, the men can envision that Fern is thinking a plethora of things, especially those that coincide with what the men themselves are thinking. Because of this intertwining of the men’s forced beliefs with those of Fern, the men are likely to feel a sense of regret, causing them to feel a sense of obligation to Fern after they have “had” her.

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