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3. Utopian Promise   



11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
- Video
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Activities
- Context
Activities
- Creative Response
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Activities: Author Activities


Nella Larsen - Author Questions

Back Back to Nella Larsen Activities
  1. Comprehension: What does Helga find so objectionable about Naxos? What does she find appealing about social life in Harlem? Why do you think she tires of Harlem?

  2. Comprehension: Helga wonders, "why couldn't she have two lives"? What are the two lives she wishes to lead and why do they seem to her so incompatible?

  3. Comprehension: The furnishings of rooms and the clothing people wear receive a great deal of attention in this novel. What do furniture and clothing tell us about these characters? What is the impact of these descriptions on our understanding of the values and aspirations of Helga in particular?

  4. Context: The novel begins with a poem by Langston Hughes about "Being neither white nor black." Why do you think Larsen presents Helga as being neither rather than being both?

  5. Context: Bessie Smith's music is widely available. Compare her self-presentation in music and in the Van Vechten photo to that of Nella Larsen and her character. How does Smith's presentation of African American identity or culture complicate or contradict that presented in Quicksand?

  6. Exploration: Quicksand follows Helga Crane's search for a place where she belongs. Consider how other works you've read also chronicle people's searches to find somewhere they feel at home. How are Helga's concerns similar to or different from those of the characters in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the speaker in T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," or other characters in works you've read? How do the issues raised in this novel contribute to your understanding of the work of other Harlem Renaissance writers such as Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, or Countee Cullen?

  7. Exploration: Consider Quicksand in conjunction with Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use." What does Quicksand have to say about the preservation of ethnic heritage, and how does Walker's story respond? These works were written over four decades apart; what seems to be different for the characters in Walker's story and what seems to have remained the same?



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