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Portrait in Georgia

Portrait in Georgia


by Jean Toomer

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

"Portrait in Georgia" is just that—a portrait, in Georgia. By that, all we really mean is that Toomer is, with words, painting a picture of a person for us, and that person is probably in Georgia.

But just whom is he painting, so to speak? When we try to suss that out, well, that's where things start to get all kinds of confusing. Is the portrait of a black person, who has been lynched in Georgia? Or is it of a beautiful woman, who resembles, in frightening ways, a black person who has been lynched in Georgia? Unclear. It's like Rubin's vase or one of those optical illusions in which you can't tell if you're looking and an old lady or a beautiful maiden.

If we're looking for the scoop on what's really going down, the title's not going to take us very far. But it does clue us in on how this poem's shenanigans are going to go down—in a series of images. In fact, the entire poem is really just one image—of a woman, being described in terms that might describe a lynching victim—with more and more details added as we move through the lines. We really are looking at a portrait, in words.

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