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Interracial EncountersReciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937$
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Julia H. Lee

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780814752555

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814752555.001.0001

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Quicksand and the Racial Aesthetics of Chinoiserie

Quicksand and the Racial Aesthetics of Chinoiserie

(p.114) 5 Quicksand and the Racial Aesthetics of Chinoiserie
Interracial Encounters

Julia H. Lee

NYU Press

This chapter illustrates how Nella Larsen's novel, Quicksand (1928), uses figurations of the Orient to explore Helga Crane's biracial, gendered, and transnational identity. The chinoiserie in the novel gives Helga Crane an alluring, if ultimately deceptive, model for subjecthood that decouples her black female body from its history of sexual, economic, and racial oppression. Her orientalism represents a search for safety from racial, sexual, and gendered prerogatives. Quicksand differentiates the racism that Helga encounters in Denmark from what she experiences in the United States; but by setting a substantial portion of the novel in Europe, Larsen highlights the connection between the local and global in projects of racial oppression. Helga's inability to escape racist economies suggests that any solution that does not recognize the transnational effects of race will be inadequate for dismantling the hierarchies of West over East.

Keywords:   Quicksand, Nella Larsen, Helga Crane, chinoiserie, orientalism, racism, racial oppression

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