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”From the pale calm of Copenhagen  to the colorful lure of Harlem.”: Europe and the literary representations of ‘race’ in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
Kristianstad University, School of Education and Environment, Avdelningen för Humaniora.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3020-7814
2001 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2001.
National Category
Humanities and the Arts
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hkr:diva-19920OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hkr-19920DiVA, id: diva2:1347267
Conference
Collegium for African American Research (CAAR), Crossroutes: The meaning of race for the 21st century, Cagliari, Sardinia, March 21-24, 2001.
Available from: 2019-08-30 Created: 2019-08-30 Last updated: 2019-09-02Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf