Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Innocence Lost: The Sexual Metaphor

While, Jean Toomer’s “Karintha” is full of explicitly sexual references, these references serve to illustrate slavery’s overall affect on the black population as a whole.
In the story, sex or “love” as Toomer describes it is a natural process to which children are introduced by their parents. In most case, imitation of such acts are viewed as natural and therefore innocent. This is the case for the young Karintha. Often as a child she was caught engaged in mischief, yet those that caught—including the preacher—were able to see the beauty of her innocence and dismiss her antics.
Unfortunately for Karintha, being born beautiful meant that she would forever be an object of desire for men both young and old. The idea that she would be willing as soon as she was able illustrates the zealotry with which men force their will upon people they believe are inferior.
Metaphorically speaking, blacks have had the will of another race forced on them since the slave trade became prominent in the United States. Like Karintha, who was a “growing thing ripened too soon” blacks were thrust into a culture where they were not understood, mistreated and only desired for what physical attributes they could use to serve the whites.
Furthermore, this point can be taken to another level if we understand Karintha to be the mother of all Africans brought to America and violently separated from their families. In the story, Karintha gives birth to a child yet she either loses it or kills it and destroys it in the “pyramidal sawdust fire”. Like Karintha , an entire generation of people was forcibly removed from their mothers and sent forth to the fires of slavery. Like the smoke that looms over the town and Karintha reminding her of the child she lost there, so too must the memory of children stolen by slavery loom in the minds of all African mothers.


  1. I like this viewpoint that you have discovered in the reading of Karintha, specifically noting the metaphor between Karintha's beauty and the pain that it brought to her, as well as the women of slavery. I didn't think of looking back to the roots of when slavery started to find deeper meaning of this story, but the evidence you provide does a great job of supporting this idea. I also like how you used the "growing thing ripened too soon" because it is a perfect line to show how culture can be thrust on to people who are of different races and creeds.

  2. I do like this interpretation of the story. The fact that you call it "innocence lost" makes clear sense. Was it Karintha's fault that she was so beautiful? Of course not. However it was unfortunately something that attracted particular men for the sake of their own pleasures. Karintha was obviously brought up way too quickly and these men took advantage of her for that. I think the portrayal of female slaves is important because they were unable to protect their rights as women. So if these men want their way with a 12 year old slave girl, then that was something that were able to have control over. This shows the disrespect for not only women, but human life in general, and it was unfortunate that a 12 year old girl had to be portrayed this way.