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Portrait in Georgia

Portrait in Georgia


by Jean Toomer

Portrait in Georgia Theme of Gender

"Portrait in Georgia" is a good example of the blurred line between genders. By keeping the reader in the dark about the subject's gender, the poet forces the reader to reconsider gender and race lines. Is this poem about a white woman? A black woman? A black man? Can it be about all three at once? There are so many different ways to read this one, it'll have your head spinning for sure.

Questions About Gender

  1. Is "Portrait in Georgia" about a man, a woman, or both?
  2. What about that word "fagots"? Is he being literal here, or could the speaker be making a comment on masculinity by using a derogatory term for homosexuals in this context? 
  3. "[H]er slim body" is the first solid detail about gender. Why is it at the end of the poem? Why not tell us sooner? And why doesn't the other end of the simile, the "black flesh," get a gender? What's the effect of that omission?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poem is describing a white woman, but the lynching victim it's using in the metaphor is clearly a black man. Why? Because Toomer wanted to poetically address the racial and gender dynamics of the South.

There is no man in this poem whatsoever. It's entirely about women—the white woman being described, and an African American female lynching victim who provides the imagery to do the describing.

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