A common theme in Toomer’s writing is the perception of African Americans. In “Karintha,” he describes the maturing of a beautiful African American woman (“her skin is like dust on the eastern horizon”), whom the title is dedicated to. She grows from a child who old men ride “on her hobby-horse upon their knees” to a twelve year old who “played ‘home’ with a small boy who was not afraid to do her bidding” (3-4). Karintha has knowledge of sexual intercourse by either seeing or hearing her parents making love. There are several occasions in the text that suggest Karintha does not have a disciplined upbringing: “Even the preacher, who caught her at mischief, told himself that she was as innocently lovely as a November cotton flower” (3). The lack of discipline explains why she has an unwanted child. She is married several times and is financially supported by several men, suggesting that she sells herself out through prostitution. The lack of discipline and her learning of sex at a young age make her unable to hold a legitimate and loyal relationship. Her child dies in the forest – she must have abandoned it. Karintha is too young and irresponsible to be a mother and was a “growing thing ripened too soon” (4). The final line, “Goes down,” ends the text on a negative note, suggesting that Karintha will continue with her ways and that she is condemned.
“Karintha” and “Fern” are similar texts content-wise. Fern is also a woman who is used for sex (possibly learning sex by getting raped). Men see her as “easy,” yet Fern is reserved when the narrator first sees her (“She became a virgin” (16)). Fern is also distinct from Karintha because of her skin color. She is a mix of white and African American – “cream” colored. The narrator, being a white man, acts against society. He feels “that love is not a thing like prejudice which can be bettered by changes of town” (20). He speaks about how men tend to lose their selfishness when they fall in love, but he does not know if his intentions are to make her happy or to satisfy himself (“To what purpose? And what for? Her? Myself?” (20)). When the narrator attempts to get close to her, she flees in fear. In contrast to “Karintha,” Fern has someone who is willing to good deeds for her, such as “rescue her from some unworthy fellow who had tricked her into marrying him” (16). The story reflects the tension society creates between races. Fern assumes that the narrator is going to do something evil to her and flees. The narrator hears that society might ask him to leave, being that he is a northerner in a southern town. Toomer might be using this to demonstrate how the US was culturally divided to the point that even a white man is not accepted by an African American woman.