In Quicksand, how is the theme of double consciousness addressed?

Quicksand is a commentary on the racism in America during the first half of the twentieth century. The author uses the term "double consciousness" to convey the idea that Helga Crane experiences a different way of life and culture as a result of her race, but she cannot truly be identified with either culture.

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Quicksand 's heroine Helga Crane is of mixed race: her mother was white and her father was black. As a result, she belongs to two socio-racial milieus while at the same time never truly belonging to either. Black Americans view her with a sense of distrust because of her white...

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Quicksand's heroine Helga Crane is of mixed race: her mother was white and her father was black. As a result, she belongs to two socio-racial milieus while at the same time never truly belonging to either. Black Americans view her with a sense of distrust because of her white ancestry. They associate her with their oppressors. On the other hand, white Americans view her as essentially black. In the south, in particular, anyone with so much as "one drop" of African heritage in them was considered fully black by default, even if their black ancestry stretched far back and the individual himself or herself appeared to be fair complexioned.

Helga tries her best to navigate the two worlds, but the hostility she receives in both (represented by her maternal uncle's racist new wife, who does not want to be associated with her, and by the black activists who never fully take to her) causes her to feel even more alone.

When Helga goes to Denmark to live with her mother's sympathetic relations, for a moment, she feels wanted. There, her skin becomes a source of fascination rather than revulsion. White men seek her hand in marriage. However, here Helga realizes she is being perceived as an exotic object rather than as a person: she is both black and an American to the white Dutch, which, while not as malicious as the American reactions to her heritage, are still isolating and dehumanizing.

In the end, Helga keeps her heritage secret when she marries a black preacher and goes to live with him in the south. As she becomes more silent, the black townspeople come to accept her; however, she ends the novel as isolated as ever, unable to reconcile her double consciousness and desire to truly belong somewhere.

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The theme of double consciousness is addressed through Helga's interactions with the world, both black and white.

To understand how this works, we should start with the term "double consciousness" itself. In "Strivings of the Negro People," W. E. B. Du Bois describes double consciousness as a "sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others" and a sense of "two-ness, an American, a Negro; . . . two warring ideals in one dark body." In other words, double consciousness is the sensation of being treated and living as an American and as a black person, two identities that can feel opposed to one another at the time.

Quicksand is the story of how this double consciousness ping-pongs a mixed-race woman, Helga, back and forth between white ("American") culture and black ("Negro") culture. When she visits her white uncle's house to ask for money, his wife turns her away, insisting that he is not her uncle because "that would make me your aunt!" (chapter 5). However, when she moves to Harlem, she feels out of place among black people whose conversations are mostly about race. She slowly realizes that "[i]t was something broader, deeper [than color], that made folk kin" (chapter 10).

It’s the same for every home Helga tries to make for herself: she leaves one place that doesn't suit her only to feel out of place in the new one, too. Helga is unable to live comfortably as both an American and a black woman no matter where she goes, because every community would always either treat her as an outsider or make her feel like an outsider deep down.

The novel ends with the latter: an intellectual, ambitious woman stuck in a community that values neither of those things. Nella Larsen offers no comfort on the issue of double consciousness; indeed, Helga spends the entirety of the novel trying to fight against it and find a community that can appease both consciousnesses at the same time—and fails.

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Double-consciousness is addressed through Helga's characterization. Helga lives at the hyphen of "double-consciousness." In being part White and part African American, she articulates what it means to exist in both worlds. She straddles both, but finds pure acceptance in neither. Part of this might be due to her own psychological condition. Larson develops Helga as a character who experiences the pain of double-consciousness to such a point that she may have internalized the lack of full acceptance within her own being. Helga is determined the find an ideal of perfection. She sojourns throughout her various stops looking for a perfected ideal of race and racial identity. Part of the reason why she is so unhappy is because no such standard exists.

Due to her double-consciousness, she experiences this twice as hard in finding emptiness in the African- American and White communities. The implication is that double-consciousness has to be understood by the individual in terms of accepting their identity as reflective of both domains. Helga finds misunderstanding and ignorance in both communities, and this might be Larsen's point. Identity has to be embraced from the individual's point of view. The individual must make peace with their own identity in being double-consciousness and not wait for validation to come from a community setting. Like Helga, if individuals wait for external validation, there is a good chance unhappiness will follow. It is in this element in which the novel's treatment of double-consciousness is highly reflective on the part of the individual, enhancing its effectiveness.

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