Study Guide

Portrait in Georgia Violence

By Jean Toomer


There's no doubt about it: "Portrait in Georgia," is a gory and violent poem. After all, when you take lynching as your subject, you're bound to include some graphic scenes to get your point across. The violence present in the poem hammers home the intimacy at the heart of violence—one body destroys another. To lynch another human being, you have to get close—close enough to smell their last breath.

Questions About Violence

  1. Who is the victim here? Is there really a victim? As in, has someone really been lynched? Or is the imagery here merely meant to figuratively describe the white woman with braided hair?
  2. Aside from lynching, are there any other types of violence in the poem? How can you tell?
  3. How has violence changed the victim's body by the last line?

Chew on This

By describing a woman's body part by part, the speaker has removed the personhood from it, which is a kind of violence. He's made her into an object.

Violence has changed the victim's body by emasculating it, feminizing it, and turning it white.