Being Multiracial: A Harlem Renaissance Perspective in Quicksand

Nella Larsen’s 1928 novel offers a no-holds-barred take on growing up mixed-race during the Harlem Renaissance.

Why couldn’t she have two lives, or why couldn’t she be satisfied in one place?

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

Quicksand tells the life story of Helga Crane, a young biracial woman searching for belonging in early 20th-century American and European societies. Throughout the novel, Helga is constantly searching for a place where she’ll feel at home as a mixed-race person. Helga’s restlessness takes hold whenever she realizes a part of her racial identity has been suppressed by her surroundings. Despite moving five times in the story, her lifelong search for a community where she feels she belongs is repeatedly thwarted. Helga never finds a community in which she feels at ease, and this ultimately breaks her. Leveraging Helga’s life story, author Nella Larsen, argues that despite the abolition of slavery, mixed-race women still meet tragic ends in the segregated world of her time. The ever-present pressure to suppress part of their identity is what breaks them.