14 March 2019
Significance of the Title Quicksand by Nella Larsen
The novel Quicksand was published in 1928 by Mulatto-American woman Nella Larsen. During this period of time, the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak. The Harlem Renaissance was a social movement for African-Americans where art and music exploded onto the scene. Larsen’s novel Quicksand can be considered an embracement and celebration of the African American culture. It explores the cultural and artistic creativity of all it’s mediums, specifically with a focus on writing. Not only is Quicksand a search for one’s identity, but it also highlights the struggle of one’s desire to be apart of an equal society in color and gender. These themes are prevalent in the meaning of the novel’s title. The formal definition of quicksand is saturated sand that sucks in any resisting force further into its embrace. Similarly in the novel, quicksand is used as a metaphor for a society where it’s citizens are placed under extreme social pressures. The more they struggle, the harder it becomes to escape the demands of a conformist society. The thematic element of falling under pressure is manifested in both the title of the novel, Quicksand, and in the life of the protagonist, Helga Crane.
Helga Crane is a conflicted individual of mixed race. Larsen successfully depicts Helga as someone who appears put together, but once under any sort of pressure, she seemingly sinks into an abyss of her own problems and ultimately falls into madness. Helga was born in Chicago to an African American father and a Danish mother. Her father abandoned her as a child and her mother passed away in her early childhood. Helga’s mixed race is embraced as beautiful and eccentric, but she is looked at as an object rather than a human being. It is almost as if Helga is being portrayed as a picture, “... she was - to use a hackneyed word - attractive. Black, very broad brows over soft, yet penetrating dark eyes, an a pretty mouth, whose sensitive and sensuous lips had a slight questioning petulance and a tiny dissatisfied loop, were the features on which the observer's attention would fasten…” (Larsen 2). Helga is characterized by the observer strictly as she appears on the outside, which neglects all qualities besides her physical features. Searching for a sense of her identity, her story begins at Naxos in her birthplace Chicago, where she works as an English teacher. Helga’s troublesome childhood and racial structure prompts her lack of trust in anyone other than herself. Helga is sinking, but her refusal of trusting others is problematic and can serve as catastrophic. Similarly to quicksand, the only way to get out may be through the help of others, which Helga refuses to find. The thematic elements of trust and racial profiling are highlighted in Naxos, where the story begins.
Naxos is a prestigious institution in the south which devotes itself to communal racial pr...