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Portrait in Georgia

Portrait in Georgia


by Jean Toomer

Portrait in Georgia Theme of Race

The last line alone is enough to tell us that "Portrait in Georgia" is very much about race. But it's not as simple as including the words "black" and "white." The politics at work in this poem are difficult to suss out at best, and impossible the rest of the time. But we think that's totally the point. Even in this poem's most mysterious moments, Toomer is challenging the very notions of race on which our readings of this poem are founded.

Questions About Race

  1. How do you know that the white woman isn't the victim of the lynching? In other words, how can we tell who's a real person here, and who is merely a metaphor?
  2. Looking at the last line of the poem, does whiteness come out of blackness or is it the other way around? Which is the real person, and which is the metaphor?
  3. Does the setting of Georgia make you assume that the lynching is racial; if so, why?
  4. How do two bodies of two different races and genders converge in the poem?

Chew on This

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

This poem is historical, and describes a fictional lynching of a black man, because of something this white woman said. In other words, the two figures in this poem knew each other in this poem's world.

The body of the white woman and the body of the black man mix to create the body of the poem. They're all one thing here.

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