Sunday, March 21, 2010
Race Analysis: Jean Toomer's "Fern"
The ambiguity of the language in "Fern" makes any sort of absolute analysis seem difficult to do. The woman, Fern, with whom the narrator is obsessed, is the color of "soft cream foam," is a "creamy brown color." She isn't just "black," or "dark-skinned." Toomer's intentions escape me, but I'll guess: I think that maybe Fern is supposed to represent some sort of symbolic/metaphoric representation of transcendence across the chasm that exists between whites and blacks, a sort of bridge across an apparently (as the story suggests) uncrossable cultural expanse. The narrator describes the difference in apprehension of Fern between white and black men: "...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 only arrive at by analogy. They let her alone." Fern is seen as an object by black men in the story. They "give" their bodies to her. But the narrator suggests that Fern is more, should be more: "Could men in Washington, Chicago, or New York, more than men of Georgia, bring her something left vacant by the bestowal of their bodies? You and I who know men in these cities will have to say, they could not." There is something more to Fern, but her color prevents anyone from noticing it. The story suggests that color shrouds any sort of subjective value. Her probably barely perceptible darker shade is enough to prevent anyone from looking any deeper than her skin. The narrator for some reason has an outside perspective--he can see in Fern what others can't--and the story recounts his struggle to understand what, exactly, it is about Fern that is so attractive, what it is about the men attracted to her that stops them from seeing it.