This line also points to the stereotypes placed on African-American males in Harlem at the time. struggle against the nameless and to him shameful impulse…” connotes a primeval behavioural trait so often associated with primitive urges, and one that would not uplift African-Americans in society unless their ancient heritage was disregarded[vii]. Larsen depicts these polar attitudes manifesting its disruption in the isolation and acute self-awareness of those whose heritage crosses both.[ix] The reader is presented with a thorough chronicle of an independent female African-American’s experience at the time.
The added social and economic constructs of both Harlem and Danish lifestyles inform the readers of the profoundly prejudice society Helga and Larsen occupied.
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.
[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.
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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.
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.
Such resistance to integration races caused them to be faced with hostility and oppression on a daily basis, and this is structured as one of Larsen’s main themes in the text.
This theme, twinned with identity and abandon, regularly appears throughout Larsen’s work, and Helga’s transatlantic journey.