NELLA LARSEN Biography - Writers


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Nella Larsen was an American novelist and short story writer famously associated     
with the Harlem Renaissance era, which one writer has called "an era of               
extraordinary acheivement in black American art and literature areas during the       
1920's and 1930's." Nella Larsen's appearance was much like that of Homer Plessy,     
a civil rights activist, who was seven eights white and one eights black. Plessy     
believed that he should be entitled to all the rights and privileges of a white       
citizen. As a result, Plessy took his case to the Supreme Court which ruled for       
"separate but equal public facilities and institutions for non-white citizens."       
Nella was a light skinned black women with limp hair and white facial features.       
Nella Larsen was born on April 13,1891, in Chicago and died on March 30,1964.         
Her mother was of Danish decent and her father was West Indian. She later in her     
life married a physicist, Elmer S. Imes, on May 3, 1919, and fourteen years           
later divorced him in 1933. She was an extremely educated woman. She attended         
Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1909 to 1910. She then continued       
her education at the university of Copenhagen from 1910 to 1912. She also             
studied nursing at Lincoln Hospital in New York City from 1912 until 1915. She       
then began her career as an assistant superintendent of nurses from 1915 to 1916,     
and became a nurse at Lincoln Hospital in New York City. Larson was diagnosed         
with a sickness in 1925 which led her a few years later to pursue her career as       
a writer.                                                                             
Although Nella Larsen was considered legally black she wanted to be able to           
identify herself with both races black and white. Nella relates some of her own       
personal experiences, ideas, thoughts and beliefs into her novels, including         
Quicksand which was her first novel and appeared in 1928, and Passing, her           
second novel which appeared in 1929. Both novels depict bits and pieces of           
Larsen's life; they involve semiautobiographical accounts of women whose racial       
and sexual confusion contribute to their unfulfilled quest for an identity.           
Larson was a modern woman; because of that she addressed different women's           
related issues such as women's sexuality and power. Larsen wrote about how males     
expect women's sexuality to be confined to their desires, in addition to             
addressing the issues of race. Larson expresses these thoughts in her first           
novel Quicksand through the main character Helga Crane, who is trapped by the         
occurences of her own reproductivity. Helga finds herself not being able to           
escape; she's trapped within the confinds of motherhood. At the same time Larson     
addresses the issue of race also through the character of Helga, who is an           
illegitimate, half-white and half-African-American female who is at the same         
time experiencing the post Civil War era. Helga's problems were not only race         
and class; unfortunately Helga's life revolved around the lack of socialism and       
extreme fantasy with is an issue that most women had in the early 1900s.             
Nella Larsen's second novel Passing on the other hand concentrates on the issue       
of skin color. As we can see from our own experiences, everyone is not the same       
shade. Many people of color were affected by this both dark- and light-skinned       
especially during Nella Larsen's era. While the light-skinned black people were       
dominating the black establishments, the dark-skinned black people were feeling       
rejection from their own kind. Passing addresses this issue through the               
character of Clare Kendry who was also an atrractive light skin fine haired           
women who manages to escape poverty by passing for being a white women. She           
marries a wealthy white man who also believes that she is white as well. Her         
journey across the color line is completely sucessful until she reunites with         
her old friend Irene. Irene Redfield is married to an attractive and sucessful       
black physician who Clare finds herself attracted to and he to her, so Clare         
decides to pursue him. Irene was aware of Clare's threat to her marriage and         
arranges for Clare's disappearence. Clare falls to her death from an open window     
just before her husband is about to confront her with his discovery of her black     
roots. Passing can be related more to Nella Larsen's actual life; she was also a     
light-skinned women who dominated the black intellectual etablishments and           
because of her color could have and may have at some points in her life passed       
for a white woman. I don't think Nella Larsen wanted to cease being black and         
become white, but she wanted to have equality in part because she was partially       
white, and in part because she wanted blacks and whites to have equal rights.         
Nella Larsen's work contains an overall view of a black world which once existed,     
but only in a female's perspective. Nella Larsen seems like she was not               
satisfied with just being a member of the black elite; she wanted more. She in       
fact seemed trapped by her narrowness, and because of her black experiences           
yearned to live in a whole world. Nella expressed these feelings and awarenesses     
through her writings. Nella Larsen was a great writer. Unfortunately her             
literary career was too brief for her to express all of her talent. She had the       
potential to create even greater work.