Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

The Unnamed Narrator

The unnamed narrator of the story is the protagonist. He is a white man from the Northern United States who travels to the American South, specifically, the state of Georgia. He is quite affected by the appearance of a young woman of mixed racial heritage that he sees there. The local man he is with tells him that her name is Fern but offers no other information. Somehow the narrator learns of Fern's history, especially her sexual history with the men of the town.

The narrator is drawn to her, though not sexually, and he eventually spends a late afternoon with her on a walk. He finds himself holding her in his arms and he feels that she holds him in her eyes, (eyes that seem to hold everything, including God). This moment prompts her to enter a strange trance-like state where she cries out to Christ and sings upon her knees. The narrator never figures out what he can do for Fern or how he can help her, though perhaps he does help her by sharing her name with the world so that she will not be forgotten.

Fernie "Fern" May Rosen

The titular Fern is the other significant character in the story. She is evidently of mixed race, with her "aquiline" nose and Jewish name, her soft cream-colored skin that seems to compel only black men to approach her. Fern does not really fit in anywhere because she is both a prostitute and a woman of mixed race. She seems to possess a kind of hidden longing or sorrow that makes people want to help her and that makes men want to send her thoughtful gifts anonymously, though they never do. According to the narrator, her emotional denial of men renders her a virgin again (though she never denies them sexually). Fern ironically seems to become a figure to which men become devoted. Though she is a prostitute on the fringes of society, she still seems to be a symbol of purity and redemption, as though she can offer others these gifts even though she is troubled herself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access