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.