Farah Jasmine Griffen: On "Portrait in Georgia"

. . . Jean Toomer's Cane (1923) is a bittersweet elegy to the beauty and the horror of the South. "Portrait in Georgia" and "Blood-Burning Moon" foreshadow and document, respectively, the lynching which spurs the movement of the text North. "Portrait in Georgia" might also be a portrait of Georgia. In this poem, Toomer establishes some of the major tropes of the migration narrative—tropes that are later revised and revisited by those African-American artists who follow him. The object of this poem is a woman whose braided hair is likened to a lyncher's rope and whose slim white-skinned body is actually made of the ash of burned black flesh. As is always the case with Toomer, the land is compared to a woman. This time it is a white woman.

In the poem and the story, the races arc bound together in a relationship of interdependence. The image of Southern white womanhood is fragile and dying because of this dependence. The poet identifies the matrix linking Southern white womanhood to the lynching of black men. He is neither the first nor the last to do so: A black woman, Ida B. Wells and a white woman, Jessie Daniel Ames, precede and follow him, respectively. In publications like "Southern Horrors," (1892) "A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States 1892-1894" (1895), and "Mob Rule in New Orleans" (1900), Wells explored the connections between the sexual exploitation of black women, the economic exploitation of black people, and the practice of lynching. According to Wells, the political and economic threat to the Southern status quo posed by black people invited the violence enacted upon them. As the founder of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, Ames articulated an understanding of the connections between white women and lynching from the perspective of a Southern white woman. According to Ames's biographer, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, for Ames, "Lynching, far from offering a shield against sexual assault, served as a weapon of both racial and sexual terror, planting fear in women's minds and dependency in their hearts.

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Title Farah Jasmine Griffen: On "Portrait in Georgia" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Farah Jasmine Griffen Criticism Target Jean Toomer
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "Who Set You Flowin'?" The African-American Migration Narrative
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