Posted at 10.01.2018
In the 1920s, statistics such as W. E. B. DuBois and Alain Locke looked for to define a fresh black identification that had came out on the scene. They claimed that "New Negro" imparted a distinctive and invaluable racial identification and culture to contemporary society and was proud of his or her race and history. However this is not the view recommended by Nella Larsen's novel Quicksand. Larsen reveals an indictment of this New Negro school of thought by showing Helga as a identity who's ashamed and humiliated at being black. The protagonist, Helga Crane, battles with her id and throughout the novel makes an attempt to dissociate herself her dark-colored identity.
But Helga questioning her value is not limited to the workplace. As a mulatta, Helga is divided into two, especially for men: her light skin area bestows respectability, and her blackness signifies hypersexuality (Davis). Her value to men oscillates accordingly. As James Vayle becomes progressively assimilated to Naxos and its mission to serve mostly the white upper-class, his uncomfortableness with her "racially" scandalous origins and "insufficient acquiescence" (Larsen, 1147) with the Naxos machine increases, making her less than an ideal matrimony spouse. But he doesn't break off his proposal with her, because he discovers her "ancient [sexual] appeal" (Larsen, 1147) useful. Similarly, Robert Anderson insults her by incorrectly assuming that a respectable family record imparted to her "dignity and breeding" and "good stock" (Larsen, 1107), making her a very important asset to Naxos, but once she proves an unsuitable "marriage" partner, he also treats her as a sexual object, in cases like this at Travenor's party. Not surprisingly, she "savagely slap[s]" (Larsen, 1115) Anderson, which not only punishes him for making her feel "belittled and ridiculed" but also repays the symbolic slap she sensed when devalued at the employment company in Chicago. And, of course, she resists being objectified as a "decoration, " a "curio, " a "peacock" (Larsen, 1136) and satisfying the intimate needs and narcissism of Axel Olsen. Indeed, Helga encounters Axel Olsen's need to have her as akin to being reduced to chattel. She explains to him, "I'm not for sale. Not to you. Never to any white man. I don't by any means care to be owned or operated" (Larsen, 1137). His painting of her underscores how he replicates the racist illusion about dark-colored women as jezebels or, as Helga puts it, "some disgusting erotic creature" (Larsen, 1138). Her refusal of his relationship proposal parallels her resignation from the faculty: both actions seek an escape from the stifling interpersonal roles defined for ladies, particularly black or mulatta women. At this time, Helga begins to truly hate her black personal information and the stereotypes associated with being dark-colored.
While she takes airfare from debilitating connections in Naxos, Chicago, Harlem, and Copenhagen, Helga will not evade the actualized method of thinking crucial to racism. Her conceptualization of her problems and their alternatives replicates the ways society produced racial ideologies that required physical qualities--hair texture, skin area coloring, skull size--as signals of a individuals being's economical function and market value. As Emmanuel Wallerstein places it, "racism is the fact set of ideological statements coupled with that group of social practices which have had the result of maintaining a high relationship of ethnicity and work-force allocation over time" (Wallerstein qtd. in Davis). Helga has internalized this transformation of an economic category--black labor value--into a metaphysical concept--black value. To put it simply, for her, dark-colored means poor, enslaved, and despised and white means wealthy, free, and treasured. Helga realizes that ever since childhood "she possessed desired, not money, but the things which money could give, leisure, attention, beautiful environment. Things. Things. Things" (Larsen, 1126). This, once again, emphasizes Larsen's protagonist's shame in her blackness. Helga's desire in life was "things" and the only way she can obtain these "things" is if she were white. Larsen portrays Helga as a female who is humiliated and humiliated when you are black which immediately contradicts Locke's idea of the brand new Negro, who embraces his / her black identification and shows racial pride.
Helga's continuing sense of entrapment is obviously well founded, because the communal quicksand into which she sinks is that of a Jim Crow America whose class, color, and gender lines increase from South to North. America was a difficult and highly dangerous place for millions of black Americans through the time of Reconstruction. These conditions and their ideological justifications propel Helga to flee from the dark working class but, as importantly, from being from the black working school. By determining with the white upper-class, she attempts to break the signifying string that links her to the dark working course (Frazier qtd. in Scheper, 690). This is why she dislikes race converse among her Naxos fellow workers, Harlem friends, and Copenhagen relatives and acquaintances. Before embarking for Copenhagen she feels, "Whyshould she be yoked to these despised dark-colored folk" (Larsen, 1128). Here it can be obviously seen that Helga does not have got any racial pleasure, but rather feels disgust towards it. And in Copenhagen, seduced by the riches and attention she obtains, Helga vows to never go back to America. Soon after she obtains Anne's letter announcing her relationship to Dr. Anderson, Helga muses on what could have became of her if she possessed never left Harlem and instead hitched Anderson herself. If she were to return to America, her fate would be that of "other Negroes [who] were allowed to be beggars only, of life, of delight" (Larsen, 1133). Again, it can be seen that Helga will try to dissociate herself as much as possible from her fellow Negroes and her racial identity.
Perhaps Helga's most needy try to free herself from the racial identity assigned by culture is her relationship to a Southern reverend, Mr. Pleasant Green, whose name evokes some sort of utopian dream and the idea of marrying for the money (Scheper, 685). The matrimony is a way of finally consummating her sexual desires without sense belittled or somehow beneath her husband (Scheper, 685). In other words, Helga hides herself in his Southern community in an effort to escape the world who made her feel dark and poor. Her attempt to identify with Green and his flock is, essentially, encouraged by the same racist attitudes as her recognition with the white upper-class: her desire not to be identified by people as the poor dark-colored other. However, Helga's relationship to Green will not triumph over her internalized racism. Sex with this man only temporarily gives her an "anaesthetic satisfaction for her senses" (Larsen, 1157). Before long her concern with being determined with the black working category reasserts itself in her try to conceal the poverty, course position, and racialization of dark women, particularly when she counsels the other women not to wear the racially and class-coded sunbonnets or aprons on Sundays because, you can assume, they might appear to be domestics--too conventionally dark.
Not surprisingly, her contempt for the dark working class expands when she does not uplift her neighbors and she herself becomes progressively more "proletarianized" (Scheper, 693). She must perform increasingly more domestic work in trade for her intimate satisfaction, particularly when she's children. Using Larsen's own metaphor, Helga involves view the labor cost of experiencing a gender life as an unequal exchange, since she must pay dearly with her body--the two times labor of producing children and keeping a well-kept home. This sense of paying too much, a repetition of her observation on the novel's first web page that she "gave willingly and unsparingly of herself with no apparent return" (Larsen, 1087), grounds the realization that she has not been successful in escaping her "fate" as a dark-colored woman.
During the Harlem Renaissance, many new ideas about the Negro identity were being developed by philosophers, music artists and authors. Locke and DuBois promoted the thought of a New Negro wherein the blacks of America would be pleased with their rich ethnical heritage and also have a strong sense of racial satisfaction. But creators like Larsen, did not automatically support such ideas, but rather indicted such theories. As is seen through the experience of Helga Crane, Larsen conveys the message that the changing times and situations that blacks were facing through the Harlem Renaissance weren't conducive to promote racial pride, but instead left blacks sense hopeless and second-rate. Quicksand shows the difficulties of being black during the 1920s and the struggles with racial id that lots of (as represented by the type of Helga) faced during this time period and the overwhelming prefer to dissociate oneself from the dark-colored stereotype. This dissociation, sadly, resulted in an entire removal from the dark community and one's dark identity. This pity and humiliation associated with blackness is a direct contradiction of Locke's and DuBois's viewpoint of the brand new Negro.