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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.4, 745 ~ 764, 2020
The Consumer as an Aesthetic Subject in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
Jeewon Jung
Although Nella Larsen’s Quicksand has been given less critical attention than Passing, Quicksand addresses an important issue regarding mulatta and, in particular, her subjectivity in consumerist society, which requires our due and keen attention. If we focus on the relationship between the commodities and the protagonist, cannot help but notice Quicksand is replete with the beautiful things, that protagonist Helga Crane craves. Attending to her affection for clothes, accessories, or luxuries, this essay examines Helga Crane as both a consuming subject and an aesthetic subject, one who actively pursues her idea of beauty and exercises her aesthetic taste by shopping and adorning herself. Helga has been considered a tragic mulatta, a stock representation of a mixed-race female who is assumed to be depressed, inanimate, and isolated. However, Quicksand presents Helga not just as a lost woman of color who belongs neither to white society nor black, but more as an intelligent individual whose keen observations criticize oppressive black communities and as an energetic person who actively fashions herself into a beautiful being. If we examine the way Helga perceives her skin and body and their relation to commodities, we can read her as an expressive and creative subject. In problematizing previous approaches to Quicksand that frame Helga as a doomed biracial female, this essay captures Helga’s imaginative grasp of commodities and argues that fashion itself is a vehicle for self-construction.
Key Words
Quicksand, aesthetic subject, consuming subject, consumerism, mulatta
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