Study Guide

Portrait in Georgia Race

By Jean Toomer


Hair—braided chestnut,
coiled like a lyncher's rope (1-2)

One could argue that chestnut hair implies that the victim has some white ancestry. Or is the color of the victim's hair a veiled reference to a white woman? In other words, is the hair being described here that of a lynching victim, or does it belong to someone else entirely?

Lips—old scars, or the first red blisters, (4)

So do this white woman's lips look like scars, or are we talking about the lips of a lynching victim here? The farther into the poem we get, the harder it is to tell who's who and what race they are. Hey, could that be the point of this whole thing?

And her slim body, white as the ash
of black flesh after flame. (6-7)

The violent act of lynching has brought together the imagery of a black figure and the appearance of a white one. Racial harmony? Maybe not, but it is a kind of coexistence, however horrific.