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Quicksand Summary

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Sandra Watson
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Quicksand Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers highquality
study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major
themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot
summary and brief analysis of Quicksand by Nella Larsen.
Quicksand, Nella Larsen’s 1928 novel about a mixed-race woman caught between two
cultures, is loosely based on the author’s own experiences as a “mulatto”—a term for
someone with both black and white ancestry.
Helga, a 20-year-old mixed-race woman, lives in 1920s small-town Georgia, where she works
as a teacher. The daughter of a white, Danish mother and a black father, she resents the way
she is forced to teach young black children to approximate white culture, thereby making
them “respectable.” She expresses these feelings to the new principal, Dr. Anderson, but is
frustrated by his lack of understanding. Fed up with her life, she breaks off her engagement
to her fiancé, James, and decides to move north and stay with her mother’s brother, Peter, in
Chicago. But when she arrives, Peter’s new wife sends her away, denying she’s even related
to her white family.
Helga struggles to find work in Chicago. She is eventually hired by Mrs. Hayes-Rore, a
travelling black lecturer who needs assistance with her speeches on racial equality. The two
travel to New York, staying with Mrs. Hayes-Rore’s friends in Harlem. Helga becomes close
with one of them, Anne Grey. Anne involves Helga in her busy social life, and Helga begins to
feel as though she’s found a new home. And yet, as time passes, Helga experiences
discontent with Anne and her life in Harlem. Anne is self-absorbed and cynical about racial
equality. She harbors prejudice against white people as a group, but copies their hairstyles,
clothing, and manner of speech. At the same time, she denigrates black culture, which Helga
finds deeply hypocritical. At a health conference, Helga runs into Dr. Anderson and finds
herself attracted to him. Anne later tells her that Dr. Anderson has left Georgia and now lives
in Harlem.

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Quicksand Summary

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