Portrait in Georgia
by Jean Toomer
Portrait in Georgia Theme of Appearances
At its heart, "Portrait in Georgia" is just that—a portrait, in words. It's just a description of a person—how they look, what they resemble. Sounds boring right? Ah, but it's what Jean Toomer does with that description that's so fascinating. He takes a flat description, a mere list of images, and makes the kind of meaning that will have you wearing your thinking cap for years to come. As usual, in poetry, there's more to a figure than looks. So when we read this portrait, we should definitely read between the lines.
Questions About Appearances
- Does "Portrait in Georgia" describe the body of a black man or that of a white woman? How can you tell? And can it be describing both?
- Why does the poem focus so much on the head and so little on the body from the neck down?
- What's the effect of having the list of features? In other words, how does Toomer's use of the blazon form help him make meaning?
Chew on This
This poem is describing the appearance of a black female lynching victim. There is no white woman, and there's no black man.
This poem describes a white woman using the imagery of a black, male lynching victim to emphasize the cruelty white people inflicted on black southern men in Toomer's time.