Karintha's Plight

700 Words3 Pages
In Cane by Jean Toomer, women are, as critic Meagan Abbott writes, “damaged by functioning primarily as vessels of others’ meaning.” Using a combination of prose and poetry, Toomer metaphorically alludes to the affects of sexuality on Karintha, the protagonist of the first short story in Cane, “Karintha,” over time. Because of her sultry beauty, Karintha is prematurely thrust into the sexual arena through no doing of her own, becoming burdened rather than invigorated by her beauty. Her early exposure to licentious prowling leads to the loss of her identity. Toomer’s language exposes Karintha as a damaged “vessel” of a patriarchal society, one in which men are the decision makers, holding positions of power and prestige, ultimately empowering them to define reality.
Imagery allows Toomer to express the stark reality of the sexual victimization of Karintha. Her beauty, the result of mixed racial heritage, is described as “perfect as dusk when the sun goes down” (3). Karintha’s beauty, not Karintha as a person, was the “interest of the male” (3). She was a sought after sexual object to be won, used, and later discarded. At a young age, “Old men rode [Karintha] hobby-horse upon their knees” (3), a sexually suggestive act that was done to her, rather than something she took part in, confiscating her agency. Because Karintha was a child, she was vulnerable to the adults who abused their power of age. Similarly, men continuously abused their assumed patriarchal right to use Karintha in ways they desired regardless of her approval. Young and old men waited until they could mate with her, the older men asked God for “youth” while young men “counted the time to pass,” as if Karintha was speechless about her own wishes (3). Men wishe...

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...ory of the end of a day, and the decline in Karintha’s happiness (3). As an adolescent, Karintha was “a wild flash that told the other folks just what it was to live,” declaring her independence (3). Once people began talking about her mischievousness when she “stoned the cows, and beat her dog, and fought the other children,” she commenced a rapid descent into adulthood (4). From then on, old men “could no longer ride her hobby-horse upon their knees” and the young men “counted faster” knowing that Karintha approached the time when she would be able to mate. As part of the chain reaction, men began to make and save money because they assumed they only had to “count time,” but money alone would not satisfy the needs of Karintha (4). When giving birth, Karintha’s “child fell out of her womb,” indicating that it the birth was unintentional rather than planned.
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