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Start Date

8-5-2020 12:00 AM

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Department

English

Advisor

Lisa Walker, PhD

Abstract

This paper will discuss Orientalism in early twentieth century literature and culture as a function or signifier of modernity, using Alys-Eve Weinbaum’s theory of racial masquerade as a lens through which to address Nella Larsen’s novel Quicksand. Weinbaum’s theory posits that for many white women of the 1920s, the marker of their status as a modern woman was their ability to move between racialized forms of aesthetic identity as it pleased them, ultimately controlling their own racial masquerade. With reference to Linda Nochlin’s “Imaginary Orient”, I will explore Orientalism and racial masquerade as they relate to the mixed-race protagonist of Quicksand, Helga Crane, a character that can be viewed as a representation of the New Negro Woman, in contrast to the figure of the (white) New Woman. I argue that Helga’s modernity, charted by her movement through the racially coded spaces she inhabits, is circumscribed by the limitations of racial masquerade for mixed-race or black women.

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May 8th, 12:00 AM

To Walk Without Purpose: Orientalism and Mobility as Functions of Modernity in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

This paper will discuss Orientalism in early twentieth century literature and culture as a function or signifier of modernity, using Alys-Eve Weinbaum’s theory of racial masquerade as a lens through which to address Nella Larsen’s novel Quicksand. Weinbaum’s theory posits that for many white women of the 1920s, the marker of their status as a modern woman was their ability to move between racialized forms of aesthetic identity as it pleased them, ultimately controlling their own racial masquerade. With reference to Linda Nochlin’s “Imaginary Orient”, I will explore Orientalism and racial masquerade as they relate to the mixed-race protagonist of Quicksand, Helga Crane, a character that can be viewed as a representation of the New Negro Woman, in contrast to the figure of the (white) New Woman. I argue that Helga’s modernity, charted by her movement through the racially coded spaces she inhabits, is circumscribed by the limitations of racial masquerade for mixed-race or black women.

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