Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Karintha, a brief feminist critique

Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon,
O cant you see it, O cant you see it
Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon
. . . When the sun goes down.

Men had always wanted her, this Karintha, even as a child, Karintha carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Old men rode her hobby-horse upon their knees. Young men danced with her at frolics when they should have been dancing with their grown-up girls. God grant us youth, secretly prayed the old men. The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them. This interest of the male, who wishes to ripen a growing thing too soon, could mean no good to her -Karintha by Jean Toomer

Toomer's "Karintha" possesses a few immediate things to notice. First is the unusual form. Though it takes on the form of a short story, it contains poetic verses used to create an image of the central character. She is described as "dusk on the eastern horizon", suggesting that Karintha is African-American. Considering the time frame that this was written, this further suggests a constrained life as social standards were limited for African-American females to a great extent. This is supported by lines such as "The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them". She is merely an object of lust to men, even as a child. She is subjected to mental objectification as well as physical. Toomer writes, "Old men rode her hoby-horse upon their knees. Given the suggestions of sexual objectification, this leads to the idea that this is yet another form of sexuality, being carried on in the only way possible for these men as she was still too young "to mate with them". The final line of the paragraph works to foreshadow her downfall; her downfall that is to be caused by her role as a mere sexual object.
These elements suggest a feminine analysis as the work is seeming to move on as a critique of the feminine role in society. As the story moves on, the same elements are developed. These elements reveal the ways in which women, solely Karintha in this work, become subjugated to a mere reproductive role; again, consider the line "...time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them". This thought is juxtaposed with "This interest of the male..." These thoughts work together to show that the woman's reproductive role is the sole interest of men. These thoughts continue to foreshadow the inevitable limits of her role in society, and the inevitable downfall.

1 comment:

  1. I just want to touch on the first line, "Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon" because it really made me stop and consider it for a moment. The eastern sky during sunset is not only dark, but it is mysterious and forgotten. Most people look to the west to find beauty and light, but the darkness in the far horizon is deep and enigmatic. The sun is leaving it, meaning that enlightenment is not approaching. Rather, we get a glimpse of it before it becomes one with the entire night sky. So we get this simgle glimpse of Karintha to remember before she is lost to us.