Much has been said on Karintha’s nature and her “contempt” for the men around her, but I’d like to focus on the structure of Toomer’s story—specifically, the order of the paragraphs and what they convey. Rather than introducing his subject via exposition, Toomer’s narrator starts off with a poetic quatrain. Thanks to rich imagery, we see Karintha’s beauty: “Her skin is like dust on the eastern horizon” (3). Thus, her skin is of a naturally pleasing color, and her beauty is not feigned or artificial. Toomer’s first paragraph of text leads readers into the background of Karintha. We know that old and young men are attracted to her and that their affections “could mean no good to her” (3). I found it interesting that each paragraph of the text addresses a different period of Karintha’s life. At 12, she was a vivacious, young girl. She caused trouble and “stoned the cows, and beat her dog, and fought the other children,” but she is not totally corrupted (3). Nevertheless, “[a]lready, rumors were out about her” (3). Interestingly, it’s not sexual advances by older men that corrupt Karintha. Instead, it is her “play[ing] ‘home’ with a small boy who was not afraid to do her bidding. That started the whole thing” (4). Then, the men “counted faster” (4).
The narrator does not mention that “Karintha is a woman” until after the second insertion of poetry. Thus, there is a shift in time between the stanza and the story’s third paragraph. Now older, we see the result of Karintha’s past. She has been married, and she has a child but abandons it. And she is still pursued by the men “who thought that all they had to do was to count time” (4). This sentence is troubling. The men “thought.” They did not “have” to count time. Does the narrator mean to imply that they could have made advances toward Karintha even earlier?
And the narrator repeats “Karintha is a woman” at the start of the fourth paragraph (4). Again, readers are transported away from the events of Karintha’s life to the macro-emotional perspective that explains what effect these events had on her.