Let’s look at Helga’s love life. She had been engaged to her co-worker, James Vayle. What conflicts exist in that relationship when it comes to class, gender, personality, or anything else—which drove them apart? And how do these tensions help you to gain more insight into Helga?

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Nella Larsen portrays Helga Crane as a woman who goes everywhere but belongs nowhere. She understands herself as a unique person and possesses uncommon determination. Unfortunately, she is buffered by the social forces of racism in diverse locations. While she learns how to surpass certain obstacles, others continue to seem...

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Nella Larsen portrays Helga Crane as a woman who goes everywhere but belongs nowhere. She understands herself as a unique person and possesses uncommon determination. Unfortunately, she is buffered by the social forces of racism in diverse locations. While she learns how to surpass certain obstacles, others continue to seem insurmountable. Navigating the different kinds of racial social barriers in Denmark and different US locations makes Helga more resilient. She recovers from the emotional wounds that others harshly inflict. Her experiences also make her quite wary.

Her engagement to James Vayle reveals some of her inner conflicts. A partnership with James would be advantageous in personal as well as collective terms. She is attracted to him, but he does not rouse strong sexual passion in her as she feels for other men. Social convention arouses confused emotions for Helga in her relationships, as she shrinks back from sexual arousal. However, the respect and affection she feels for James also connects her with a segment of African American society that she knows has the potential to achieve the greater good. James’s virtue borders on self-righteousness, and he seems more duty-bound than genuinely fond of her. While she understands that desire must be a component of a true marriage, she over-privileges its importance and ends up with a man equally as unsuited for her in the long run.

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