Quicksand

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The novel Quicksand by Nella Larsen is a commentary on the available models for middle class black women, in which the rejection of any of these results in the other alternative being prostitution as middle class wife or in the literal sense of the word. Quicksand narrates the struggles of a mulatto woman, as she tries to find an identity and a society that shuns her for being of mixed race. Through the perspectives of Helga, the people looking at Helga and Larsen herself, the novel, provides us with five different role models for black women, who are: Helga Crane as a teacher in Naxos, Audrey Denney as a socialite, Mrs. Hayes-Rore as an activist, Helga in the white society, and Anne Grey. The first model of black womanhood in the novel corresponds to that of a teacher, and is exemplified not only by Helga, but also by Margaret Creighton and Miss Macgooden, presented to us in Chapter 2. These characters are supposed to be an example of good graces and education. These women dress in “drab colors, mostly navy blue, black and brown” (Larsen 561) because as expressed by the Dean of Woman in her speech, “bright colors are vulgar” and “dark-complected people shouldn’t wear yellow, or green, or red” (561). They are supposed to know their place as blacks in society and stick by those standards. We can see that Helga has adopted this model of black womanhood during her stay at Naxos; she is engaged to a black man of a “good family”, works as a teacher and rejects her sexuality as both Miss Macgooden and Margaret Creighton have. This identity adopted by the three female characters presented in the first chapters foreshadows Helga’s struggles throughout the book, where she rejects every available model that is expected of black woman. There is no more left for a young, capable, black woman than to marry a black man, and the only job she could fulfill is being a teacher. This imposition of identity poses a conflict for Helga because she rejects the uniformity of Naxos in...
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