John Callahan: On "Portrait in Georgia"

. . . if religion failed to keep blacks in subservience, there were other means. "Portrait in Georgia," the sequel to "Conversion," uses the figure-ground pattern to expose the white southern obsession behind the blood sacrifice of lynching. Through Toomer's newly made eyes, the image of a southern belle dissolves into a black man tortured and burned alive at the stake. One by one, the woman's features yield to the paraphernalia of lynching, until in a final chilling montage her white body becomes a simile for the black victim:

 

And her slim body, white as the ash

    of black flesh after flame.

 

The poem's silent imagery summons the black folk voices of "Blood-Burning Moon" that improvise desperately against the spell of violence hovering over the land as pregnantly as the full "red nigger moon."

Details

Title John Callahan: On "Portrait in Georgia" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author John Callahan Criticism Target Jean Toomer
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication In The African-American Grain: The Pursuit of Voice in Twentieth-Century Black Fiction
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