Helga's Problem With Commitment in Nella Larsen's Quicksand Essay

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Helga's Problem With Commitment in Nella Larsen's Quicksand

In Nella Larsen's Quicksand, Helga Crane passively opts out of situations; her actions are consistently reactionary. Helga’s anxiety is the figurative “quicksand” in which she sinks throughout the novel: Helga is too afraid to commit to a decision and thus flees geographically, failing to realize she can not find happiness through avoiding decisions.

Naxos is the first place Helga leaves to flee from commitments. Her engagement to James Vayle makes Helga feel both “shame” and “power,” so she expects to feel “relief” upon canceling the plans (1533). Only once she has left Naxos does Helga realize that “she couldn't have married him...Certainly she had never loved him,”
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Helga discovers the extent of the “freedom” about which she had previously remarked when she finds herself void of any family in America: Peter's wife tells Helga, “Please remember that my husband is not your uncle,” (1545) which emotionally injures Helga. Furthermore, she endures weeks of vocational freedom (1548), making the first job offered to her a necessity. When the issue of family again presents itself, Helga explains to Mrs. Hayes-Rore, “I haven't any people. There's only me, so I can do as I please” (1551); the latter is not entirely true, as Helga, “hysterical” and “afraid to hope,” (1548) accepts Mrs. Hayes-Rore's commission since she has no other choice (despite her freedom). While she has resolved to live in New York (1549), Helga only travels and finds lodging there through her passivity.

Though Helga finds “peace and contentment” (1553) in Harlem, she establishes here her flight from anxiety that is to become characteristic. When she meets Dr. Anderson again, Helga notes the return of her “vague yearning” (1558) for the man. She does not precisely explain why she runs away from him despite her “long[ing] to stay,” (1559) but she probably chooses to leave instead of testing the reality of her feelings. Though Helga seems to regret this decision in retrospect, citing her “disappointment” (1559) over the missed opportunity, she does not take responsibility for her actions and consequent feelings, as she
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