Examine the overlap between the Harlem Renaissance and American Modernism Using Nella Larsen's Quicksand.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is much in way of overlap in Larsen's work between the Harlem Renaissance and the American brand of Modernism.  The basic premise of the work is that Helga is in search of her racial identity.  She wishes to establish something new, something that is different from what other see.  Helga's search for racial identity represents the theories of race posited in the Harlem Renaissance.  Helga must seek to better understand her identity through the lens of race.  She recognizes that there is a racial element that is present in her consciousness and she does not try to suppress or deny it.  Her being is present in the construction of racial understanding as an integral part of her identity, reflecting one of the main ideas of the Harlem Renaissance.  

The construction of Helga's racial identity is also an element where one can see American Modernism.  The American Modernists were concerned with the idea of the "newness" of experience.  Pound was emphatic about the idea of "make it new" and this can certainly embody what Helga seeks to do with her identity.  In each of her travels, she wishes to "make it new" in terms of her life and identity.  She is not limited by mobility and attachments until the very end, when she is no longer able to "make it new" with the responsibilities of motherhood.  In another sense, Helga's travels to Europe represent American Modernism as a branch of the movement believed that meaning existed in Europe and not in America.  Helga's movement to Denmark is a flight from the limitations of being in America.  Through seeking to find a realm where American racism can be overcome, Helga embraces a critical aspect of American Modernism.  In her probing analysis of race and her willingness to engage in constructivist notions of the good, Helga's narrative represents the overlap between American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.