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The Harlem Renaissance in Quicksand

Updated September 7, 2022

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The Harlem Renaissance in Quicksand essay

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To first make an argument about race in Quicksand, by Nella Larsen, you have to think about all major factors that come into play in this novel. One of them being the time period, which in this case is the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the “New Negro Movement”, was a movement that was really just to establish who African-Americans really through one thing and one thing only; art.

This novel really talks about in detail all of the problems/concerns that people, negros specifically, had to face during this time period. Helga Crane, a young negro woman is the main character of Quicksand and the story with her is basically she is trying to find her rightful place in society. As she tries to find this, she is faced with many obstacles, challenges, and confusion at times. One of Helga’s main challenges is that she’s mixed. She’s both white and black and it’s hard for her to find where she belongs because of this.

Quicksand shows the white racism images of African American people during the first ten years of the twentieth century. Larsen not exclusively centers around hostility of white people, yet additionally thinks about the oblivious and indirect racism by the europeans that she mentions. Helga’s hunt shows three difficulties related with setting up one’s personality: to begin with, that exploring the racial line between and among highly contrasting is liminal and suspended; second, that a flimsy adolescence can make an absence of clear character and having a place; what’s more, third, regardless of racial characters, parenthood is the most troublesome, if certainly feasible, personality to escape. We learn from Helga’s experience that her way of life as an other is forced and unsuitable. When testing her place in the black world, Helga learns to hide her white identity. Mrs.

Hayes-Rore says, “I wouldn’t mention that my people are white, if I were you. Colored people won’t understand it, and after all it’s your own business”. Helga is supposed to keep half of her identity to herself because she is not like the people who surround her despite their similar appearances. She accepts this, thinking of whites as sinister folk . . .

who had stolen her birthright. Their past contribution to her life, which had been but shame and grief, she had hidden away from brown folk in a locked closet”. She chooses to be complicit in smothering her personality in the expectations that she will discover simplicity and solace in her life. At Helga’s first gathering with Axel Olsen, he looks her over, as though she is a statue, and concludes that she will do as a model for his works of art. Helga has no control or decision in the issue.

She turns into his dream and assumes this part to satisfy her auntie and uncle. She even supposes she may love Olsen, and at one time seeks after a proposition. His gaze forces this identity on her, and not only does he expect this in her behavior, but he represents her as an exotic to everyone else through the portrait. This alone tells you that Olsen only sees Helga as a trophy. To me, it seems that he only sees her as this and nothing else because of the fact that she is black(even though she is also white). Racism may have been reduced in the past century over time, but it is still around and I believe that Larsen is trying to show us this by this novel.

Helga encounters a similar sort of prejudice when she visits her Uncle Peter in Chicago in order to ask for help and particularly for cash. Since Mr. Nilssen isn’t at home and Helga shockingly finds he has hitched she acquaints herself with Mrs. Nilssen, a white lady. Nonetheless, the last does not affirm of Helga’s appearance and treats her in an exceptionally inconsiderate and disrespectful manner.

The new spouse of her uncle makes it unmistakably obvious to Helga that she isn’t her uncle’s niece and that they are not identified with each other. The whites suppress the blacks in Naxos and model them after their plans of how the blacks are supposed to behave. The white racist society tries to eliminate all kinds of individual and innovative developments in order to restrain the blacks from gaining strength and developing insubordinate thoughts. Helga is disgusted and full of resentment because the black community accepts its inferiority and tolerates the eradication of their personality and identity. To me, this is just sad that blacks were treated like this because no one should take anyone’s nonsense no matter what skin color people are.

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The Harlem Renaissance in Quicksand. (2019, Apr 23). Retrieved from