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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Race Criticism of "Fern" by Jean Toomer

There are many ways to critique elements of Fern; one of the most prominent themes within the story is the way that race and ethnicity are presented. At first glance, it seems that Blacks are the people who are focused upon within the story for longing after Fern: "A young Negro, once, was looking at her, spellbound from the road. A white man passing in a buggy had to flick him with his whip if he was to get by without running over him" (Toomer 17). Here, we see that Fern appeals to Black men, but White men pay her no attention. One way of interpreting this is that Black men are not mentally strong enough to resist the temptation and the appeal that Fern represents, while White men feel no urge at all to give into Fern's hypnotic gaze. It can also be interpreted that Fern has qualities that only Black men find desirable. With both of these interpretations, it is presented that Blacks and other races of men (specifically Whites) are different. These Black men, once they "had" Fern, also felt an obligation to her, which is based on the assumption that all men discussed are Black: "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). This reaffirms that all of the men mentioned within the first part of the story, the men who took her and received no joy from it, the men who then felt lifetime obligations to her, and the men who were everlastingly bringing their bodies to her, are Black. With all of this, we see that Fern, who is presented to have no remarkable appeal at all besides her physical traits, is captivating to Blacks.

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