Tuesday, February 1, 2011


“Karintha is a woman. She who carries beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. She has been married many times. Old men remind her that a few years back they rode her hobby-horse upon their knees. Karintha smiles, and indulges them when she is in the mood for it. She has contempt for them. Karintha is a woman. Young men run stills to make her money. Young men go to the big cities and run on the road. Young men go away to college. They all want to bring her money. These are the young men who thought that all they had to do was to count time. But Karintha is a woman, and she has had a child. A child fell out of her womb onto a bed of pine-needles in the forest. Pine-needles are smooth and sweet. They are elastic to the feet of rabbits… A sawmill was nearby. It’s pyramidal sawdust pile smouldered. It is a year before one completely burns. Meanwhile, the smoke curls up and hangs in odd wraiths about the trees, curls up, and spreads itself out over the valley… Weeks after Karintha returned home the smoke was so heavy you tasted it in water.”

This passage acts as a turning point in Toomer’s story. Prior to this paragraph, Karintha was a young girl, attracting the attention of the older men in the community. Immediately before this passage, it says, “She [Karintha] played ‘home’ with a small boy who was not afraid to do her bidding. That started the whole thing…” Now, Karintha is no longer an innocent girl. “Karintha is a woman.” Men are even more attracted to her now than before. They work frantically in an attempt to gain her favor. They get jobs, run stills, and go to college, all to show that they can support her. However, these men do not know that Karintha has had a child. She gives birth to it in the forest and abandons it. The burning pile of sawdust from the nearby sawmill functions as a symbol of Karintha’s actions. The smoke is so thick that it can be tasted in the water. The entire community has been tainted by the men’s lust for a young girl and Karintha’s abandonment of her baby.

Although it is in paragraph form, this passage has a poetic feel to it. Toomer does not strictly adhere to sentence structure. Also, he repeats certain lines multiple times. In this passage, the sentence, “Karintha is a woman” is repeated three times. This poetic style gives the reader a strong sense of melancholy. Karintha is no longer an innocent girl. The men of the community have brought her into womanhood prematurely.


  1. As for the idea that Karintha is structured more as a poem I'd have to agree. The entire piece even seems to feel more like lyrics because of the nature of its structure. The fact that the paragraphs are divided by the the short quatrains (essentially repeated each time) makes these short poetic asides feel like the refrain to lyrics. Also, the repetition of specific lines (like "Karintha is a women" and "when the sun goes down") reinforces my feelings that this is written in a lyrical form.

  2. I like your point on the emphasis that "Karintha is a woman." Karintha is exactly that, a woman, and not a human being. She is expected to conform to stereotypes of femininity. She is not human, but female.

  3. Michael and Ian, I am very much intrigued by your notion that Toomer's Karintha is written much more like a poem than a story. I am curious as to why you think Toomer would choose to the combine the two literary forms. Why didnt he just write a poem if he wanted to be so poetic? Is there a reason that he tried to combine the short, repeated stanzas with a larger narrative? Personally, I think that Toomer is providing a commentary on the oral tradition of African Americans. Because many were illiterate, stories and cultural information was often given in the form of stories and songs so that they would be easy to recall. I am curious for your thoughts...