Friday, January 25, 2008

"Karintha" and "Fern", or The Living Dead of the Post-Bellum South

The short pieces by Jean Toomer concerning the young black women named Karintha and Fern share many similarities with a great deal of southern literature from this period. Being perhaps the only southerner in the class, as a Mississippian by birth, I feel I need to direct some attention toward this. Anyone who has read Faulkner might already be somewhat familiar with what I am going to propose. Either way, the southern states, following the Civil War, were effectively recolonized by the north in a process called Reconstruction. The basic US history lesson ends here. This process, though successful by northern standards, reduced southerners of every race and social class to what is seen in the characters of the featured stories, particularly Fern. Fern does not care, or feel. She barely lives, subsisting within her own mind, allowing the men around her to take advantage of her without complaint, though many of these men do, as is mentioned, feel a sort of obligation to her afterward. I would hazard to say this is in the commonality of events in these peoples' lives, that of abuse and redemption, being as that is the sad precedent set by both north and south in the handling of events following the war. Therefore, my title referencing the living dead is for these people--the broken ones who were forced to live in the Reconstruction Hell that persisted over decades and several generations. Even into the 1950s and 60s, one could see these same events. This is not to say that old stereotypes regarding the south hold true. This is, in fact, far from the truth. Prior to its military defeat in the Civil War, the south could easily equal the north culturally, if not industrially. To make this long, rambling story shorter, it is my point to say that these things are not unique to any single ethnic group or class in the south at the time. They were all the living dead.

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