The novella discusses the social and mental effects of racism and oppression through the eyes of a female African-American during the Harlem Renaissance in America and Europe.
The protagonist’s struggle to find her ‘self’ and ‘place’ in society is extended across the four cities we see her travel between.
Du Bois’ ‘talented tenth’[iii] is hinted at through Anne’s luxurious lifestyle and conceited attitude towards her peers.
The population of Du Bois’ tenth envisioned as ‘superior’ were of the bourgeoisie class.
[iii] The tenth of the black population with a ‘superior’ intellect and education was used to model his uplift of African-Americans to the same ‘status’ as white-Americans, in order for segregation to dissolve. [vi] Both Larsen and her protagonist’s mothers were from Denmark, yet their experience in American lead them to reject their daughters.
Her mother’s sister embraces and respects Helga as a foreign and exotic relative when she lives with her in Copenhagen. [ix] Larsen was brought up in a family who didn’t share her heritage since the age of 6.uplift, where the United States represents the primitive of the repressed self, and Europe the idealised (and aestheticized) Other.”[xi] Albeit a positive pedestal she is placed on in Europe, her isolation is equally as intense.Consumerism has its foundations in vanity and beauty, adding to the use of Helga as a mirror to reflect the author’s solitude.Materialism and vanity that erupted during this decade.Larsen reflects this through the text in the relentless use of imagery, idealising Helga’s ‘mulatto’ identity just as native[vi] European’s of the time would have. Nilssen’s point of view, [and] her mother’s, her stepfather’s and his children’s points of view…”[viii] engage the readers in understanding the rift deep within America between the black and white populations.As an outsider in Naxos, Harlem, Copenhagen and Alabama, Helga has no true sense of belonging. Anderson as a metaphor for Helga’s lack of stability, and no cemented place to call home.The consumerism within the text visually emphasises Helga’s isolation,as she is constantly admired in Europe, but is instructed to conform to the unit that Naxos operates as, suppressing her identity.The character’s foundations are built upon her mother rejecting her and the isolation she experienced within her step-father’s white family as a child.The issues surrounding ‘mulatto’ individuals of the Harlem Renaissance allowed no solace in one particular race.We see Helga internally and externally battle stereotypes of primitivism and exoticism projected by white America and Europe upon those of African descent.In addition to social problems, Helga also struggles with her personal absence of cultural and historical definition.