Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Discomfort in "Fern"

“If you walked up the Dixie Pike most any time of day, you’d be most like to see her resting listless-like on the railing of her porch, back propped against a post, head tilted a little forward because there was a nail in the porch post just where her head came which for some reason or other she never took the trouble to pull out” (Toomer 17).

While the nail may seem like an arbitrary and amusing part of the story, I think much can be a very expressive detail. I thought this was a perfect image to go along with her only speech in the story: “Doesnt it make you mad?” (19). She constantly observes the world from an unpleasant vantage point. Seated on a railing quietly avoiding a nail to her head, she takes in the entire world as a painful place but never fights it. Her open, drawing eyes simply absorb it. The nail is no different than the gossip with which she deals.

I think her uncomfortable seat acts as a metaphor for her discomfort in the world. She is calm and reserved, but not happy. She lives in quiet acceptance, save for her singular outburst which leads to convulsions and calls to Jesus. But this was a direct result of her exchanging her vantage point for participation in the world. When not asked to leave her post on the porch, she remains accepting of her uncomfortable situation. Just as she knows that the world will continue regardless of her action, she does not think to remove the nail; it is simply a part of her existence.


  1. I agree with the idea of an uncomfortable vantage point for Fern, but would take that analysis one step further to include that fact that Fern, like most products of slavery, have no cultural or geneological heritage to view the world from. From the description of her dusky skin and her certain Semitic qualities we can infer that she is atleast of some mixed background. Therefore, I think that Toomer-- also of mixed descent-- is trying to illustrate that the history of any American Race is often blurred, mixing into a melting pot of sorts, rather then distinctly white or black

  2. I agree with your analysis in that Fern's view of the world is similar to her seat upon the porch. The nail is never removed because she has gotten used to it. This fact also brings to light the feeling had by many of the men that come into contact with her. The reason that they can never find anything, despite their best efforts, to make her happy is because she has resigned herself to a negative existence. It is all she knows, she has come to accept it, and, as a result, will permanently have her unique effect on those around her.

  3. I love how such a small detail in the story, and even smaller in real life, reveals so much about a character and her psyche. The applicability of the nail device as a symbol of Fern's discomfort is intriguingly deep. I would specify further that Fern's discomfort comes largely from the uncertainty she feels over her cultural identity. As she can not rest her head against the pole because of the nail, she gazes off in various different directions, but never seems to focus on any of them or see anything worth seeing. Perhaps each direction represents one of the cultures which she could ostensibly claim as her own but which she lacks the confidence to truly embrace.