Quicksand, By Nella Larsen Essay

2542 words - 10 pages

The Harlem Renaissance period in Modernistic American Literature began when Black authors wrote about that with which they were familiar—what it is to be black. Writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Willa Cather proved through their writings that the African-American lives were not only different from that of their white counter-parts, but that the writings were relevant for the historical period and beyond. Another Harlem Renaissance writer who led the way for future black writers was Nella Larsen, author of the story Quicksand.
Nella Larsen was born in 1891 in Chicago, the daughter of a white woman from Denmark and a black man from West India (Britannica.com). After her father’s death when she was just two, Larsen became a source of embarrassment for her family because the man her mother then married was white (About.com). After attending high school in Nashville, Larsen lived in Copenhagen a few years before becoming a nurse and marrying Elmer Imes (Britannica.com). The Imes family moved to Harlem, where Larsen worked at a public library before resigning her position to pursue a writing career (Baym 1721). An excellent writer, Larsen was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship, the first for an African-American woman (BookRags.com). Unfortunately, her world shattered after she was accused of plagiarizing a story and by her divorce from Elmer Imes (Baym 1721). She retreated from the literary scene and resumed her nursing career (About.com). She died in 1964, at the age of 72 (Britannica.com).
The story Quicksand has a myriad of interesting characters. Patricia Hill Collins used the term “matrix of domination as ‘contain[ing] few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyone's lives’” (Labbé). Practically everyone in the story has a hidden agenda for his or her actions. The protagonist, a 22-year-old named Helga, was a teacher at an institute of higher learning called Naxos where the true agenda was not education but instead was teaching Blacks their accepted status in life—lower than that of Whites. She became convinced that she needed to leave Naxos after hearing a speech from a visiting white preacher whose remarks she found offensive. The preacher stated that if everyone acted like those from Naxos “there would be no race problem, because Naxos Negros knew what was expected of them” because they “knew enough to stay in their places” (Larsen 1724). At the beginning of the story, the reader would feel sympathy towards the workers at Naxos, who truly believed they were preparing the students for better lives and sympathy for Helga who tried to convince the new principle, Dr. Anderson, as to the true state of affairs. Helga failed to realize, however, that Dr. Anderson was aware of the situation at Naxos but felt that for change to occur there needed to be “more people like you, people with a sense...

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