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Quicksand By Nella Larsen Summary

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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 settles down as a teacher at Naxos, an all-black institution. However, as she realizes her circumstances, she decides to leave her job and fiancé. She moves 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, Helga 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). The narrator’s labelling of her goal as naïve reveals that her actions were futile; Helga soon realizes this. 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. Helga’s frustration 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). At Naxos, she attempts to sympathize with her African American side through uplift. Eventually, however, she realizes that the colored men and women surrounding her remained complicit to the oppressive system, whether for pretend or not, and she cannot help but feel alienated from the black
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