How is sexuality represented in Nella Larsen´s Quicksand?  

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Sexuality as a theme is primarily represented through the character of Helga Crane and her struggles to come to terms with and legitimise her own sexual needs against the backdrop of two very different cultures that insist on objectifying women sexually. Through this massive conflict, the author demonstrates how both black and white cultures are responsible for creating sexual inhibitions for black women.

If we consider Helga Crane's development through the novel, we can see that she is rather ambivalent concerning her sexuality and one of her conflicts is the way in which she tries to make her sexuality "fit in" with notions of social respectability. Although she attempts to reject the objectification of what it means to be a woman, at the same time, she seems to spend a lot of hours engaged in activities that implicitly support such objectification, such as the use of make up and jewelry.

This sense of ambivalence is supported by the way that the society of which she is a part only allows women to express themselves sexually in marriage, and yet she refuses various chances to marry. At various stages in the novel, she is shown both to yearn sex but to be repelled by the idea, for example, whilst she is in Harlem, she spends lots of time dreaming about marrying "one of those alluring brown or yellow men [so that they can give her] the things which she had now come to desire," but the next moment, when she sees these same "alluring" men gyrating at a dance club, she is repelled by the sight.

When she does marry, it is a disaster, and she is forced into marriage with a man who insists on her strict adherence to traditional notions of womanhood. Her identity and character becomes tied down to the roles of being a sexual object and a cook and a made as she tries to cater to the needs of her husband, who, in turn, spends his time flirting outrageously with the various female parishioners he has. The trap that marriage is in this novel is most explicitly shown when Helga is trying to recover from childbirth and her husband unsympathetically wants her to get better so that he can continue receiving sexual fulfilment and she can look after the garden, or the "scorched melon-patch" that is her lot.