”From the pale calm of Copenhagen to the colorful lure of Harlem.”: Europe and the literary representations of ‘race’ in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

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Sammanfattning

This paper deals with the representation of Europe in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928). Furthermore, how does the European setting affect the representations of race and identity in the novel? I discuss how the spatial change affects the protagonist Helga Crane’s notion of “race” and self, as the encounter with the European setting highlights the dialectic process of identity construction. Leaving America Helga thinks she will find relief from limiting notions of “blackness,” but instead she only finds re-articulations of the concept of “race” in Europe. In compliance with her Danish family’s expectations of exotic primitivism, Helga emphasizes her difference and, I suggest, passes for “black” The performative aspect of passing is discussed in relation to Larsen’s understanding of culture, “race” and historical agency. In her complex ways of conceiving culture and “race,” Nella Larsen still speaks to the present moment, and the late twentieth century debates concerning difference and identity politics.

I read Larsen’s representations of Europe as symbolic geographies, allowing for criticism of social and historical conditions in America as well as Europe. Through the fictional encounters with European life, Nella Larsen provides us with a lens through which we can see what we call “Western civilization.” Helga’s travels in Europe, here told in a reversal of the conventions of the travel narratives of the white, European, male narrator, become a way of interrogating the role of the African American in the construction of this civilization.

Konferens

KonferensCollegium for African American Research (CAAR), Crossroutes: The meaning of race for the 21st century, Cagliari, Sardinia, March 21-24, 2001.
Period80-01-01 → …

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