Quicksand Analysis

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Though public attitudes towards miscegenation and interracial marriage have improved in the last several decades, the practice of these concepts was not tolerated in the early 20th century. In Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, this stigma explains the situation of Helga Crane, a half white, half black woman living in the American South. Struggling to find her place in society, she settled down as a teacher at Naxos, an all-black institution. However, when she realized her circumstances, she decided to leave her job and fiancé. She moved to Harlem, and then to Denmark, only to find that the people around her continue to treat her differently. In every situation, when she finally adapted to a new environment, the harsh reality devastated her and showed…show more content…
She was an activist, and with the belief that education would empower the next generation of African Americans, she taught “...at first with the keen joy and zest of those immature people who have dreamed dreams of doing good to their fellow men” (Larsen 5). As shown, the narrator’s labelling of her goal as naïve reveals that her actions were futile and hypocritical. Helga realizes this as she discovers that the institution itself was the problem: the mission of black uplift was a ploy created by the white man to reinforce ideas of black inferiority (Larsen 3). Consequently, she is angered by the inaction of Naxos’ colored students and teachers against the false mission of the school; she is also frustrated by her own contribution to the problem. Helga’s rage is rationalized by her conflicted identity, and as another literary critic puts it, "Through her love of color, Helga attempts to create a spectrum rather than an opposition, a palette that will unify her life rather than leave it divided" (Hostetler 35). She attempts to cement her identity by sympathizing with her African American side through activism, but she fails as she realizes she does not belong to either side; not white because she is empowering blacks and not black because she is supporting a system of white superiority. Thus, she remains divided, and she cannot help but feel repelled and
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