Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Qiana Whitted


I will conduct a feminist intersectional analysis of Nella Larsen's Quicksand in order to shed light on this complicated and often misunderstood novel and also to show the value of a truly intersectional framework for literary analysis. In addition, I aim to develop an interdisciplinary intersectional methodology applicable to literary scholarship by borrowing from social scientists paradigms that have already made many gains in this area. I choose Quicksand because it shows explicitly through the fate of its protagonist, Helga Crane, the dangers that result from relying on discrete, homogenous identity categories and from focusing on only one system of oppression. I read Helga's fate - presumed death through childbirth - as resulting from the confusion and identity crisis that she experiences as an effect of her striving to fit into categories that do not allow her to remain a whole person. In addition, I read her demise as resulting from multiple and simultaneous systematic oppressions that she cannot fully comprehend because she tries to extract them from one another. Ultimately I read Helga's fate as symptomatic of essentialist notions of identity as well as of simplistic approaches to oppressions. Further, I argue that through Helga, Larsen anticipates later problems associated with the then burgeoning identity politics as well as anticipates future conversations about intersectional identities and oppressions as well as about mind/body dualism. Larsen exhibits prophetic understanding of intersectional concepts related to black women's complicated positions and identities. Ultimately, using this framework will give a more complete reading of Quicksand and resist reductionist readings that try to classify the novel as either about race or about gender or about sexuality.


© 2012, Anna Rebecca Smith