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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Race Analysis of the Narrator in Toomer's "Fern"

The narrator in "Fern" is an African-American male, but his perceived racial identity undergoes a number of changes as the story progresses. At the beginning of the story, he seems to connect only with people of his own race. His description of how people look at Fern is limited to "black folks", while "what white men thought of Fern" is less clear and can only be shown "by analogy" (17). We later learn that he feels somewhat isolated even from the black community, because he was "from the North and suspected of being prejudiced and stuck-up" (17). The interesting thing about this description is the fact that it would seem to apply specifically to wealthier, more formally educated people in general from the North—which would mostly be white folks. Thus even though the narrator is of the same race as the people in Fern's community, he is suspected of sharing too much in the white culture of the North. Finally, when his uncertainty regarding Fern reaches its climax and he asks his male readers for advice, he writes "it makes no difference if you sit in the Pullman or the Jim Crow" (18). Those who sat in the Pullman were white, and those in the Jim Crow were black. Here, the narrator appears to escape the limitations of race altogether—only to limit his writings to those of his same gender. Therefore I would argue that the racial signifier in this story (as it applies to the narrator) could certainly be described as "floating."

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