Essays On Quicksand By Nella Larsen

Callaloo

Description:Callaloo, the premier African and African-American literary journal, publishes original works by and critical studies of black writers worldwide. The journal offers a rich mixture of fiction, poetry, plays, critical essays, cultural studies, interviews, and visual art. Frequent annotated bibliographies, special thematic issues, and original art and photography are some of the features of this highly acclaimed international showcase of arts and letters. Special issues on Haiti and on Puerto Rican Women Writers have received awards from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals and the Association of American Publishers Professional Scholarly Publishing Division.

Coverage: 1976-2012 (No. 1 - Vol. 35, No. 4)

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ISSN: 01612492

EISSN: 10806512

Subjects: Language & Literature, African American Studies, Area Studies, Humanities

Collections: Arts & Sciences I Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection, Language & Literature Collection

Quicksand By Nella Larsen Essay

The first encounter with Helga Crane, Nella Larsen’s protagonist in the novel Quicksand, introduces the heroine unwinding after a day of work in a dimly lit room. She is alone. And while no one else is present in the room, Helga is accompanied by her own thoughts, feelings, and her worrisome perceptions of the world around her. Throughout the novel, it becomes clear that most of Helga’s concerns revolve around two issues- race and sex. Even though there are many human character antagonists that play a significant role in the novel and in the story of Helga Crane, such as her friends, coworkers, relatives, and ultimately even her own children, her race and her sexuality become Helga’s biggest challenges. These two taxing antagonists appear throughout the novel in many subtle forms. It becomes obvious that racial confusion and sexual repression are a substantial source of Helga’s apprehensions and eventually lead to her tragic demise.
Helga’s first indication of racial conflict revolves around her occupation as a teacher at Naxos. Not so much with her fellow teachers or the other staff, but with the core concepts and principles of the school itself. Helga admits that she has had trouble fitting into the “Naxos mold” (Larsen 10). She describes this failure to conform as “a lack somewhere,” stemming from “parts of her she couldn’t be proud of” (Larsen 10). These subtle hints show Helga’s conflict with racial discomfort. She strongly disagrees with the southern school’s values and ways of thinking. Helga feels that the school had become “a showplace in the black belt, [an] exemplification of the white man’s magnanimity, [and a] refutation of the black man’s inefficiency” (Larsen 8). In her opinion, this institution of learning was now more like “a big knife with cruelly sharp edges ruthlessly cutting all to a pattern, the white man’s pattern,” than that of a school (Larsen 8). Larsen uses this lacerating metaphor to jaggedly attack the attitudes and beliefs of Booker T. Washington, who sought to form schools to train blacks for specific occupations in low-skilled fields and “believed racial agitation was a course for disaster” (Hill 6). Helga credits her unease at Naxos to “a quality within herself” that she cannot understand (Larsen 12). Helga soon confesses her bi-racial frustration to the principal, Dr. Anderson, but only after becoming disturbed by her sexual attraction towards him.
Helga’s first confrontation with Dr. Anderson almost leaves her speechless! Larsen describes Helga’s reaction as an “inward confusion” that felt to her “like hysteria” (Larsen 18). Larsen again only hints at this attraction, in an indirect manner. A careful analysis of the text, however, will make her point obvious. Larsen illustrates Helga’s sexual temptation regarding Dr. Anderson with clever insinuations. As their conversation develops, Helga is overcome by a “mystifying yearning” that “throbbed in her” (Larsen 20). Larsen uses words, such as...

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