Nostalgia in Toomer’s “Fern”
In Jean Toomer’s “Fern,” the narrator’s pursuit of Fern, like many men before him, is met with Fern’s nostalgia for more. What exactly Fern is looking for is ambiguous as “[her eyes] sought nothing…nothing that was obvious and tangible (16).” Fern remains throughout the story an unsatisfied woman of the south. The fact that she is synonymous with a Jewish cantor leads me to believe that her nostalgia is also a type of sorrow, or depression. Fern is sought by many men “[that] became attached to her, and hungered after finding the barest trace of what she might desire (16).” Her lack of identifiable desire and the ever present pursuit of men lead Fern to isolate herself from the conception “[t]hat the sexes were made to mate…the practice of the south (17).” Fern’s conviction that the world has nothing to offer except the bodily gifts of suitors leads to her resentment of the world.”Doesn’t it make you mad?[...]She meant the world(19).” This shows that Fern does resent the world, and I believe it is because of the South’s emphasis on sex and the ever present pressure from men.
Fern’s longing for more in an environment that exemplifies “[t]hat the sexes were made to mate”, is left to characterize the song of a Jewish Cantor. “But at first sight of her I felt as if I heard a Jewish Cantor sing (17).” The narrator clearly identifies that Fern’s nostalgia for something more, her sorrow, is seen through her eyes desiring nothing that is tangible. The narrator, like the men before him, is unable to fill Fern’s void. Fern’s void is a product of the South’s emphasis on sexual relations that is exemplified by the narrator’s pursuit of Fern. He, like all the rest I presume, identifies his pursuit as unique. He states, “[s]omething told me that men before me had said just that as a prelude to the offering of their bodies…I tried to tell her with my eyes…I think she understood(18-19).” This shows that Fern’s view of sex in the south is a product of the relentless pursuit of men, each thinking he might have something Fern could desire. However, just like the men before him, the narrator has nothing Fern desires. And still, at the end of story, Fern’s eyes are still taking in the world from her porch. She is still longing for something more than the world has to offer. It’s like the narrator’s doings never took place at all. Thus, Fern’s characterization as a Jewish cantor is shown through her eyes desiring nothing the South has to offer.