Anti-Assimilationist Politics in Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Claude McKay's Home to Harlem and Banjo

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022170/00001

Material Information

Title: Anti-Assimilationist Politics in Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Claude McKay's Home to Harlem and Banjo
Physical Description: 1 online resource (80 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: assimilationism, banjo, bois, class, claude, colonialism, du, gender, harlem, heteronormativity, home, hysteria, interpellation, larsen, mckay, nella, performance, performativity, prostitute, queer, quicksand, race, renaissance, sexuality, uplift, vagabond
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis examines the gender, racial, class, and sexual politics of Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) and Claude McKay's Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1928). I argue that Larsen and McKay both espouse what I call 'anti-assimilationist' politics in their representations of race, sexuality, gender, and class, and that they do so by negotiating the marginal positionality of migrant expatriates of color who opt out of the related heteronormative and bourgeois imperatives to settle down, into either a geographical or family home. The novels represent characters whose migration (both within and outside the boundaries of the United States) and sexual dissidence, queer or otherwise, pose a challenge to the constructs of race and nationhood as conceived within the framework of Western colonialism and the American racial uplift movement alike, and to the heteronormative gender and sexual roles that perpetuate colonial power relations. Although Larsen and McKay share a commitment to anti-heteronormative and anti-colonial politics, they diverge significantly in their gender politics, particularly in their understanding of women and femininity in relation to negotiating social assimilation. McKay's novels are marked by a tension between representing femininity as a fundamentally assimilationist subject position, complicit with colonial structures, and an awareness of women's fundamental disenfranchisement by those very structures. The ambivalence of McKay's gender politics also informs the ambivalence of his sexual politics. On the one hand, by appointing Ray, a queer Haitian intellectual, and a central character in both of these novels, as his spokesperson against the related institutions of nationalism, colonialism, and the bourgeois family, McKay foregrounds queerness as a radically anti-assimilationist subjectivity. On the other hand, by often downplaying and subtextualizing Ray's queerness, McKay suggests that queerness?s opposition to binary gender divisions is at odds with his project of mobilizing a kind of virile black masculinity against emasculating white colonial forces. Paradoxically, McKay can only espouse his ostensibly anti-heteronormative politics by marginalizing queer men and scapegoating women as unscrupulous participants in capitalism, colonialism, and heteronormativity. Larsen's Quicksand, on the other hand, represents, through its protagonist, a kind of femininity that consistently refuses assimilation by uplift and colonial frameworks alike. Reclaiming hysteria from its cultural history of pathologizing women and femininity, I argue, through a definition of hysteria much closer to Jacques Lacan's than to Sigmund Freud?s, that Larsen uses hysteria as a literary device which mobilizes her anti-assimilationist heroine's critique of the heteropatriarchal and colonial structures that violently interpellate women into subject positions invented to further the goals of imperialism and capitalism. Throughout Quicksand, the protagonist Helga Crane performs, briefly and unsuccessfully, a number of subject positions into which she is interpellated, including that of racial uplift pedagogue, middle-class Harlem professional, African exotic in Europe, 'Jezebel,' and finally, wife and mother. Illustrating Judith Butler's assertion that we can never perform the subject positions into which we are interpellated with complete success, Helga's repeated and often willful hysterical performative failures mobilize her emergence as an radically anti-assimilationist subject. Finally, I argue that on a certain level both Larsen and McKay's novels tellingly fail to assimilate their anti-assimilationist characters into a coherent symbolic logic. Larsen fails on the level of a coherent narrative plot (something McKay does not even attempt), while McKay fails to express consistent and viable gender, sexual, and even racial politics. Thus, though in vastly different ways, McKay and Larsen's novels alike literalize and dramatize their anti-assimilationism.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rosenberg, Leah R.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022170:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022170/00001

Material Information

Title: Anti-Assimilationist Politics in Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Claude McKay's Home to Harlem and Banjo
Physical Description: 1 online resource (80 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: assimilationism, banjo, bois, class, claude, colonialism, du, gender, harlem, heteronormativity, home, hysteria, interpellation, larsen, mckay, nella, performance, performativity, prostitute, queer, quicksand, race, renaissance, sexuality, uplift, vagabond
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis examines the gender, racial, class, and sexual politics of Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) and Claude McKay's Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1928). I argue that Larsen and McKay both espouse what I call 'anti-assimilationist' politics in their representations of race, sexuality, gender, and class, and that they do so by negotiating the marginal positionality of migrant expatriates of color who opt out of the related heteronormative and bourgeois imperatives to settle down, into either a geographical or family home. The novels represent characters whose migration (both within and outside the boundaries of the United States) and sexual dissidence, queer or otherwise, pose a challenge to the constructs of race and nationhood as conceived within the framework of Western colonialism and the American racial uplift movement alike, and to the heteronormative gender and sexual roles that perpetuate colonial power relations. Although Larsen and McKay share a commitment to anti-heteronormative and anti-colonial politics, they diverge significantly in their gender politics, particularly in their understanding of women and femininity in relation to negotiating social assimilation. McKay's novels are marked by a tension between representing femininity as a fundamentally assimilationist subject position, complicit with colonial structures, and an awareness of women's fundamental disenfranchisement by those very structures. The ambivalence of McKay's gender politics also informs the ambivalence of his sexual politics. On the one hand, by appointing Ray, a queer Haitian intellectual, and a central character in both of these novels, as his spokesperson against the related institutions of nationalism, colonialism, and the bourgeois family, McKay foregrounds queerness as a radically anti-assimilationist subjectivity. On the other hand, by often downplaying and subtextualizing Ray's queerness, McKay suggests that queerness?s opposition to binary gender divisions is at odds with his project of mobilizing a kind of virile black masculinity against emasculating white colonial forces. Paradoxically, McKay can only espouse his ostensibly anti-heteronormative politics by marginalizing queer men and scapegoating women as unscrupulous participants in capitalism, colonialism, and heteronormativity. Larsen's Quicksand, on the other hand, represents, through its protagonist, a kind of femininity that consistently refuses assimilation by uplift and colonial frameworks alike. Reclaiming hysteria from its cultural history of pathologizing women and femininity, I argue, through a definition of hysteria much closer to Jacques Lacan's than to Sigmund Freud?s, that Larsen uses hysteria as a literary device which mobilizes her anti-assimilationist heroine's critique of the heteropatriarchal and colonial structures that violently interpellate women into subject positions invented to further the goals of imperialism and capitalism. Throughout Quicksand, the protagonist Helga Crane performs, briefly and unsuccessfully, a number of subject positions into which she is interpellated, including that of racial uplift pedagogue, middle-class Harlem professional, African exotic in Europe, 'Jezebel,' and finally, wife and mother. Illustrating Judith Butler's assertion that we can never perform the subject positions into which we are interpellated with complete success, Helga's repeated and often willful hysterical performative failures mobilize her emergence as an radically anti-assimilationist subject. Finally, I argue that on a certain level both Larsen and McKay's novels tellingly fail to assimilate their anti-assimilationist characters into a coherent symbolic logic. Larsen fails on the level of a coherent narrative plot (something McKay does not even attempt), while McKay fails to express consistent and viable gender, sexual, and even racial politics. Thus, though in vastly different ways, McKay and Larsen's novels alike literalize and dramatize their anti-assimilationism.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rosenberg, Leah R.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022170:00001

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2 2008 Velina Manolova


3 (1929-2007) To my grandmother, Velichka Pelova (1929-2007)


4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank everyone who has ma de this projec t possible through various forms of guidance and support. Leah Rosenberg, my chair, has been very patient with me, helping me sift through a heavily tangled web of ideas and inklings to produce a coherent proj ect. Susan Hegeman has given me extremely helpful theo retical guidance and pos ed important and challenging questions. I am indebted to Barbara Mennel for her thorough feedback on the style of my writing and the cohesion of my arguments. I am grateful to Stephanie Smith for introducing me to Quicksand by assigning the novel in her graduate seminar. I th ank Kenneth Kidd for his invaluable guidance in all matters pertaining to graduate studies in English at UF, and Kathy Williams for her indispensable role in coordinati ng administrative side of our degr ees. I am indebted to Roger Whitson and the members of Leah Rosenbergs disse rtation seminar, who have provided me with useful feedback at various stages of this pr oject. Melissa Mellon has been an excellent roommate and a good friend, always ready to o ffer her refreshingly humorous commentary on academic and non-academic matters alike. Hilary Harbaughs determined expatriation has been a consistent source of inspiration. I tha nk Stephanie Boluk, Lyndsay Brown, Aaron Cerny, Mahmoud Hussein, Meggan Jordan, Regina Mart in, Mike Mayne, and Emily McCann for being great friends through and through. UFs Gradua ted Assistants United have been relentless advocates for their fellow graduate student worker s, ultimately making our work possible. I have been greatly inspired by Margaret Lynch and Bernadette Monroeteachers who make teaching a profession worth pursuing. I thank my brother, Emanouil Manolov, for his continued insistence that I challenge myself at all times. Finally, I thank my pare nts, Diana Manolova and Nikolay Manolov, for all of th eir encouragement, and thei r enduring love and support.


5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................9 2 EASILY ASSIMILATED?: QUICKSANDS HELGA CRANE........................................... 14 3 CLAUDE MCKAY, THE REPRESEN TATION OF WOMEN, AND T HE ASSIMILATION OF THE QUEER....................................................................................... 42 Queerness, Women, and the Domestication of Sexuality in Home to Harlem .......................45 Society is Feminine: The Conflicting Politics of Banjo ......................................................58 4 CONCLUSION: MCKAY, LARSEN, DUBOI S, AND TH E PRICE OF UPLIFT...........71 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................76 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................80


6 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts ANTI-ASSIMILATIONIST POLITICS IN NELLA LARSENS QUICKSAND AND CLAUDE MCKAYS HOME TO HARLEM AND BANJO By Velina Manolova May 2008 Chair: Leah Rosenberg Major: English This thesis examines the gender, racial, cl ass, and sexual politics of Nella Larsens Quicksand (1928) and Claude McKays Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1928). I argue that Lars en and McKay both espouse what I call anti-assimilationist politics in their representations of race, sexual ity, gender, and class, and that they do so by negotiating the marginal positionality of migrant expatriates of color who opt out of the related heteronormative and bourgeois imperatives to sett le down, into either a geographical or family home. The novels represent characters whos e migrationsboth with in and outside the boundaries of the United Statesand sexual dissiden ce, queer or otherwise, pose a challenge to the constructs of race and nationhood as conceive d within the framework of Western colonialism and the American racial uplift movement alike, and to the heteronormative gender and sexual roles that perpetuate colonial power relations. Although Larsen and McKay share a commit ment to anti-heteronormative and anticolonial politics, they diverge significantly in their gender politics, particularly in their understanding of women and femininity in relation to negotiating social assimilation. McKays novels are marked by a tension between repr esenting femininity as a fundamentally assimilationist subject position, co mplicit with colonial structures, and an awareness of womens


7 fundamental disenfranchisement by those very st ructures. The ambivalence of McKays gender politics also informs the ambivalence of his sexual politics. On the one hand, by appointing Ray, a queer Haitian intellectual, and a central charact er in both of these novels, as his spokesperson against the related institutions of nationalism, colonialism, and the bourgeois family, McKay foregrounds queerness as a radical ly anti-assimilationist subjec tivity. On the other hand, by often downplaying and subtextu alizing Rays queerness, McKa y suggests that queernesss opposition to binary gender divisions is at odds w ith his project of mobilizing a kind of virile black masculinity against emasculating white co lonial forces. Para doxically, McKay can only espouse his ostensibly anti-heteronormativ e politics by marginalizing queer men and scapegoating women as unscrupulous particip ants in capitalism, colonialism, and heteronormativity. Larsens Quicksand on the other hand, represents, th rough its protagonist, a kind of femininity that consistently refuses assimila tion by uplift and colonial frameworks alike. Reclaiming hysteria from its cult ural history of pathologizing women and femininity, I argue, through a definition of hysteria much closer to Jacques Lacans than to Sigmund Freuds, that Larsen uses hysteria as a literary device whic h mobilizes her anti-assimilationist heroines critique of the heteropatriarchal and colonial structures that violently interpellate women into subject positions invented to further the goals of imperialism and capitalism. Throughout Quicksand the protagonist Helga Crane performs, briefly and unsuccessfully, a number of subject positions into which she is interpellated, including that of racial uplift pedagogue, middle-class Harlem professional, African exotic in Europe, Jezebel, and finally, wife and mother. Illustrating Judith Butlers assertion that we can never perform the subject positions into


8 which we are interpellated with complete success, Helgas repeated and often willful hysterical performative failures mobilize he r emergence as an radically anti-assimilationist subject. Finally, I argue that on a certain level both Larsen and McKays novels tellingly fail to assimilate their anti-assimilationist characters into a coherent symbolic logic. Larsen fails on the level of a coherent narrative plot (something McKay does not even attempt), while McKay fails to express consistent and viable gender, sexual, and even racial politics. Thus, though in vastly different ways, McKay and Larsens novels alike literaliz e and dramatize their antiassimilationism.


9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION I havent any people. Theres only m e, so I can do as I please. Nella Larsen, Quicksand, 41 [S]ociety is feminine. Claude McKay, Banjo 206 I am easily assimilated. Old Lady in Leonard Bernsteins Candide In 1928, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harlem Renaissan ce leader and champion of racial uplift, published a review of Claude McKays Home to Harlem (1928) and Nella Larsens Quicksand (1928) in The Crisis that to this day continues to shape th ese novels critical reception. Du Bois accused McKay of pandering to white audiences fa ntasies about the lives of black working-class people by presenting a one-sided view of what bo th the black and white bourgeoisie saw as the sordid underside of Harlemits prostitutes and the sexual lasciviousness of its cabarets. Home to Harlem made Du Bois feel distinctly like taking a bath, cater[ing] to that prurient demand on the part of white folk for a portrayal in Negroes of that utter licentiousness which conventional civilization holds white folk back fr om enjoying. In the same review Du Bois praises Larsens Quicksand for portraying the new, honest young, fighting Negro womanthe one on whom race sits negligibly and Life is always first (Two Novels). The review succinctly summarizes the representational and cultural politics of Du Bois, whose commitment to racial uplift, or the social and economic advancement of African Americans, was coupled with an assimilationist bourgeois literary aestheti c. Du Boiss remarks thus speak volumes about the class anxieties of the New Negro movement, but they are also


10 quite revealing with respect to Harlem Renaissance authors peculiar relationship to (oftentimes white) patronage and the sexual politics of thes e artist-patron dynamics. Given Du Boiss positing of Quicksand as an antidote to Home to Harlem s vulgarity and problematic primitivism, it might seem ironic that Larsen dedicated her second novel Passing (1929) to Carl Van Vechten, a white author whose novel Nigger Heaven (1926) notoriously exemplifies the white primitivist fantasies about black working-cl ass sexuality that Du Bois accuses McKay of arousing. But Du Boiss review is not interested in investigating these artist-patron dynamics. Indeed, his attitude toward Larsen in this review itself comes o ff as nothing short of patronizing. The majority of the review is devoted to a critique of McKay; the commentary on Larsen comprises the articles last paragraph, ending with Du Boiss exhortation: buy [Larsens book] and make Mrs. Imes1 write many more novels (Two Novels). By foregoing a more sophisticated critical engagement with Larsen s novel, Du Bois ignores the complexity of Quicksand s treatment of racial uplif t. While Larsens novels re present respectable middleclass blacks and in no way glorify primitivized black sexuality, they hardly advocate the black bourgeoisies uplift project; on th e contrary, they convey an attitude of wry cynicism toward uplift while also expressing a profound ambivale nce toward representational primitivism. Larsens ambivalence in relation to this prim itivism-uplift binary makes her work difficult to pigeonhole for Renaissance literati of either cam p, catering to the expectations of white patrons and black Renaissance leaders alike while al so refusing to align itself with any one representational project.2 If Larsens work, because of its ambiguous repr esentational politics, was hard to place in relation to the Renaissances dominant curren ts, McKays was in some ways outside the parameters of the New Negro movement. Gary Holcomb argues that McKay was never truly a


11 member [of the Harlem Renaissance] in any unpr oblematic way (71). The Jamaican author lived in Europe and North Africa between 1922 a nd 1934, and was thus physically very far from Harlem throughout the duration of its renaissan ce. McKays internationalism, according to Holcomb, also separates him from the moveme nts risk of enforcing an American exceptionalist ideology (70). This internationa lism defined McKays position in relation to patronage as well. His homoerotic relationship with his first patron, the gay British aristocrat Walter Jekyll, placed McKay with in a particular racialized, sexualized, and colonial power dynamic, which his work continually negotiated. Contrary to the opposition Du Bois establishe s between the represen tational politics of these two authors, both McKay and Larsen are oppos ed to, or at least highly skeptical about, the rhetoric of Du Boiss Talented Tenth, and both pose a challenge to bourgeois mores. Feeling nauseate[d] (Two Novels) by the frequent ap pearance of prostitutes and sex in McKays Home to Harlem, and impressed by the deeply psychologica l picture Larsen paints of African American femininity, Du Bois loses sight of the ways in which both authors challenge his privileging of black middle-cla ss respectability. Larsen and McKay alike are in fact deeply interested in sexually transgressiv e figures such as the prostitute, the queer, and in Larsens case, also the hysteric, as repres entatives of the oppressed subj ect within a colonial and heteropatriarchal world order. Both authors use these figures to critique Western imperialism as well as the ideology of the uplift movement, thus demonstrating the parallels between colonial and uplift ideology. This essay examines what I would like to ca ll the anti-assimilationist politics of Larsens Quicksand McKays Home to Harlem and its sequel Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1928). These works negotiate the marginal positionality of migrant expatriates of color who opt out of


12 the related heteronormative and bourgeois imperativ es to settle down, into either a geographical or family home. The novels represent character s whose migrationsboth within and outside the boundaries of the United Statesand sexual dissidence,3 queer or otherwise, pose a challenge to the constructs of race and nationhood as conceive d within the framework of Western colonialism and the uplift movement alike, and to the he teronormative gender and sexual roles that perpetuate colonial power relations. In this respect, both Larsen a nd McKay advance antiassimilationist racial and sexual politics. Both authors explore the ways in which characters who are socially marginalized, on account of race, sexu ality, class, or gender, negotiate the social symbolics attempt to assimilate them into dominant structures. Both take on antiheteronormative and anti-colonia l literary projects. However, McKay and Larsen diverge in their treatment of women, and femininity more generally, in relation to th is negotiation of social assimilation. McKays novels are marked by a tension between representing femininity as a fundamentally assimilationist subject position, complicit with colonial structures, and an awareness of womens fundamental disenfranchisement by those very structures. Larsens Quicksand, on the other hand, represents through its protagonist, a kind of femininity that consistently refuses assimilation by uplift and coloni al frameworks alike. Despite this important difference in their respective gender politics, bo th of these authors novels share their ultimate failure to contain their anti-assimilationist char acters within a coherent narrative logic or representational symbolic. Thus McKay and Larsen s texts perform the anti-assimilationism that their characters embody. 1 Imes was Larsens married name. 2 Jeffrey Gray situates Larsen in relation to a primitivis m-uplift binary in Essence and the Mulatto Traveler: Europe as Embodiment in Nella Larsens Quicksand, Novel 27:3 (Spring 1994), 257-70. 3 Sexual dissidence, as I use the term, suggests sexual practices and representations of sexuality that challenge or threaten sexual orthodoxies and structures such as bourgeois sexual mores, heteronormativity, and


13 marriage. Jonathan Dollimore defines sexual dissidence as a kind of resistance, operating in terms of gender that repeatedly unsettles the very opposition between the dominant and the subordinate (21). Holcomb repeatedly uses the term in reference to McKay and his characters.


14 CHAPTER 2 EASILY ASSIMILATED?: QUICKSANDS HELGA C RANE Leonard Bernsteins operatic adaptation of Voltaires Candide (1952) features a song titled I Am Easily Assimilated, which play fully and poignantly draws a connection between cultural assimilation and the violen ce it does to women in particular The song is sung by an old lady whose life story is characterized by the commodification of her body and the various kinds of violence done to her body as she is raped and sold into slavery. It is clear, as she tells her story, that she has been a prostitute in many different parts of the wo rldwhether willingly or not. Her ability to be easily assimilated refers to both her adaptability to different cultures and the ease with which her body lends itself to sexual consumption by men around the world. Because of its plays on prostitution and social interpellation and assimilation as defining experiences for mobile women, I feel that this song resonates particularly strongly with the experience of Larsens heroines. Larsens two novels, Quicksand and Passing, both address the predicament of women who embody social ambiguity by transgressing the color line, the public/pri vate split, bourgeois sexual mores, and heteronormative sexual scripts. These characters are biracial, cosmopolitan, and, at least ostensibly, though not securely, middle-class women. Quicksand and Passings narrative trajectories are structured around these womens migrat ions, both within the United States and across the Atlantic, and the migrations themselves are symptomatic of the heroines racial ambiguity, class instability and transgressive, anti-heteronormative desire. In an era marked by anxiety about womens entry into the public sphere, and, particularly in the United States, anxiety about miscegenation, Quicksand s Helga Crane and Passing s Clare Kendrys social transgressions and ambiguities trigger various reductive or incorrect interpellations, including interpellati ons as prostitutes.


15 The distinctions between prostitute, sexuali zed black woman, and public woman were far from clear in the European and American cultu ral imaginaries of this time. Black womens bodies, whether conceived of as the bodies of form er slaves or domestic workers or both, were often seen as always already public. In this c ontext, the black middle class in America had its own anxieties about the bodies of black women and its investment in policing and domesticating black womens bodies ultimately rein scribed the racist and sexist logic that pathologized these bodies in the first place.1 Thus, Du Boiss disgust with McKays nearly monolithic identification of working-class woman with working girl, or prostitute, is understandable, but his attitude toward Larsen betrays a level of obliviousness to her adamant resistan ce against domesticating her heroines bodies. Whether they are wrongly interpellated as pros titutes, or as members of a class or race with which they do not identify, the dissonances between the subjectivities of Larsens protagonists and the external interpella tions to which they must respond illuminate the short-sightedness of an uplift movement committed to maintaining strict racial, class, and sexual identity categories. While both Passing and Quicksand explore the situation of racially ambiguous (im)migrant women of unstable class positions who must endure constant misrecognitions by the social symbolic, this paper focuses on Quicksand. Because Quicksand s narrator has direct access to Helga Cranes thoughts and feelings, I feel that Quicksand more directly facilitates an analysis of the subjectivity of its socially transgressive protagonist. Insofar as Passing on the other hand, can provide insights in to the psyche of its transgre ssive female character Clare Kendry, these insights can only be deduced from the projections of the relatively conservative middle-class protagonist Irene Redfield, with whose subjectivity the narra tive voice is aligned. Irenes projections onto, fantasie s about, identifications with, and desire for Clare certainly allow


16 for fascinating psychoanalytic and queer readings, several of which already exist.2 I focus on Quicksand because its narrative gives voice to a prot agonist who is, in my view, radically antiassimilationist. Throughout Quicksand, Helga performs, briefly and unsuccessfully, a number of subject positionsincluding but not limited to a type of symbolic prostitutioninto which she is interpellated. These positions include racial uplift pedagogue, middle-class Ha rlem professional, African exotic in Europe, Jezebel, and finall y, wife and mother. Performing here does not refer to play-acting but to perfor mativity as elaborated upon by Jud ith Butler. Butler defines the performative as constituting the identity it is purported to be. In the case of gender performativity, there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very expressions that are said to be its results ( Gender Trouble 34). In other words, the gender we are assigned doesnt constitute an identity that precedes the attributes of gender we perform. We do not speak, act, and dress in certain ways because we are women or men, but we are women or men because we speak, act, and dress in certain ways. Gender isnt an identity but a performance. The performativity of gender, however, doesnt make us into actors. The perf ormance of gender isnt on e that a prior subject elects to do; rather, gender constitutes as an effect the very subject it appears to express (Imitation 24, 28). In Quicksand, the heroines performativity of various subject positions functions in much the same way. Helga assumes these positions because she is thus interpellated; at the moment of interpellation, she has no choice in the matter. But an interpellate d subject need not be assimilated into the identity categories of the soci al order that interpellates her. While Butlers theory of performativity may sound deterministic in positing that we do not author or fully


17 control our performances, it does create a space for subverting the norms that determine our interpellation. To the extent that gender is an assignment, wr ites Butler, it is an assignment which is never quite carried out according to e xpectation, whose addresse e never quite inhabits the ideal s/he is compelled to approximate (Bodies That Matter 231). The subjects inevitable failure to correctly perform the position into which s/he is interpellated creates the possibility for the subversion of norms. I argue that in Quicksand, this failure is the key to Helgas emergence as an anti-assimilationist subject, and that La rsen highlights this failu re by hystericizing her heroine at key points in the narr ative, where Helga enacts her in ability to perform a coherent subject position by hysterica lly fleeing from the s cene of interpellation. Quicksand s narrative is structured around a series of migrations the most important of which occur when the narrative has hystericized it s heroine. Hysteria, as I define it in the context of Quicksand functions as a plot de vice that propels Helga from one scene of social misrecognition to another.3 Each time Helga becomes disencha nted with her social surroundings and other peoples attempts to assimilate her in to their social structures she moves to a new geographical location. Three of her migrations are triggered at least in part by particularly traumatic clashes between an interpellation and Helg as resistance to the inte rpellation: her initial migration from the American South to the North, her departure for Denmark, and her final return to the American South. In these three cases the migrations follow what we might call hysterical fits. Even when these fits are not the sole reason for Helgas departure, they certainly contribute to her decision to flee and dramatize the intolerability of the interpellations that precipitate her flights. The connections among migration, flig ht, and hysteria thus become symptomatic of Helgas anti-assimilationist instinct. Because the hysterical Helga migrates five times


18 throughout the novels 132 pages, th is hysteria-as-plot-device also results in Larsens telling failure to assimilate her heroine within a well-unified narrative plot. The story begins in the fi ctional town of Naxos, Alabama, where the twenty-three-yearold protagonist works as a teacher at a black co llege. Because Helga disagrees with and can no longer bear the uplift ideology underlying the sch ools mission, she quits her job and moves to Chicago. In Chicago, Helga plans to ask her whit e Danish family for financial support, only to be turned away by an aunt who suggests that Helga is not legitimately connected to the family. Helga then moves to Harlem where she tempor arily finds satisfaction in living and working among other African Americans. The racial sepa ratism of her entourag e, however, soon proves tiresome, and upon receiving money from her Chi cago uncle in the mail, Helga boards a boat to Copenhagen, where she lives with her continenta l Danish family for several months. Helga initially enjoys her life in Copenhagen, thinking that racism is non-existent in Denmark, but eventually comes to realize that the Danes exoticist construction of her blac kness is just as racist as the social injustices she experiences in the Un ited States, and decides to return to Harlem and its African American population. In Harlem, Helg a is seduced and then rejected by the former principal of the Naxos school. She becomes prof oundly scarred by this experience and resorts to desperate measures for finding companionship. In Larsens perverse undoing of her heroine, Helga seduces and subsequently marries a Southe rn preacher and moves with him to his home village in Alabama. Helga gives birth to four of the preachers children, barely recovering from the fourth birth. The novel ends when Helga is pregnant with her fifth child and Larsen suggests that this fifth birth will kill the protagonist. The novels opening in Naxos foregrounds He lgas perpetual dissa tisfaction with her social surroundings. The towns very name sugges ts Helgas feeling of estrangement from her


19 milieua feeling that will travel with her to every new geographical locale she inhabits. In Greek mythology, Naxos is the island on which Th eseus abandons Ariadne. Deborah McDowell observes that Naxos is also an anagram fo r Saxon, suggesting the schools worship of everything Anglo-Saxon (243 n2). Disillusioned with Naxos ideo logy of racial complacency, its commitment to the white agenda of keeping blacks in their social a nd political places in spite of their economic advancement, Helga decides to quit her job and move to Chicago. The hysterical episode that precedes Helgas departur e involves a refusal of a class interpellation by Naxoss principal who, in an attempt to keep Helg a at the school, calls her a lady of dignity and breeding (24). The novels exposition also alludes to Helg as interracial and possibly illegitimate parentage and connects it to her cl ass ambivalence and disinterest in family life. Her decision to leave Naxos, she ponders, would of course end her engagement (11) to her fianc James Vayle. [S]he felt no regret that tomorrow would mark the end of any claim she had upon him. The family of James Vayle, which bears an established family name, would be glad. Her own lack of family disconcerted them ( 12). Since a marriage proposal, especially by a member of a first family (12), constitutes an interpellation by the familial institution, Helgas engagement to James Vayle equates to a provisional acceptance of this interpellation. Her subsequent refusal to participate in the in stitution of marriage bear s a strong symbolic relationship to her anti-assimilationist impulse; her nonchalant attitude toward leaving her fianc and her privileging of the necessity to migr ate over the bourgeois imperative to marry are symptomatic of her anti-assimilationism. Helg a reflects on how her maladjustment [in Naxos] had bothered [James] who was liked an approved in Naxos and loathed the idea that the girl he was to marry couldnt manage to win liking and approval also (11). Thus James and Helgas


20 suggested incompatibility further conveys Helg as social nonconformism and unfitness for marriage. These early chapters also inaugurate Helgas ch aracterization as a hyste ric, as they lead up to the hysterical episode that sends her to Chicago. The narrators remark that Helga could neither conform, nor be happy in her unconformity (11) and question But just what did she want? (14) both point to a funda mental inability or refusal to be satisfied central to the psychoanalytic definition of a hysteric.4 Her hysterical fit in Naxos like her subsequent fits, combines sexual confusion, a violent reaction to an interpellation, and flight. When the school principal, Robert Anderson, first pronounces her name as she sits in his office, she was aware of inward confusion. For her the situation seem ed charged, unaccountably, with strangeness and something very like hysteria (21-22). Helga s intuitive response to Anderson foreshadows his role as an agent of her hystericization and sexual confusion throughout the novel. Andersons charisma almost keeps Helga in Naxos. Listening to Anderson, Helga feels a mystifying yearning which sang and throbbed in her. She felt again that urge for service, not now for her people, but for this man who was now talking so earnestly of his work, his plans, his hopes. It was not sacrifice she felt now, but actual desire to stay, and to come back next year (23). But Anderson makes the mistake of ending a flowery speech about service, aiming high and Naxoss need for people with a sense of values with interpellating Helga into a specific class positionality and positing her class identity as something inherent and outside the social. Youre a lady, Anderson insists. You have dignity and breeding (24). The class interpellation causes turmoil [to rise] again in Helga Crane. Trembling, she informs the principal: If youre speaking of family, Dr. An derson, why, I havent any. I was born in a Chicago slum.


21 The man chose his words, carefully, he thought. That doesnt at all matter, Miss Crane. Financial, economic circ umstances cant destroy tendencies inherited from good stock. You yourself prove that! Concerned with her own angry thoughts, which scurried here and there like trapped rats, Helga missed the import of his words. Her own words, her answer, fell like drops of hail. The joke is on you, Dr. Anderson. My fa ther was a gambler who deserted my mother, a white immigrant. It is even uncer tain that they were married. As I said first, I dont belong here. I shall be leaving at once. This afternoon. Good-morning. (24) Andersons desperate belief in the racial uplift ideology of the talented te nth, the inherently gifted black elite that can guide the black masses to assimilation into mainstream American society, blinds him to the separation between the na tural and the social and to the ways in which the familial institution betrays that separation. Helga misse[s] the import of [Andersons] words, or, in other words, doesnt buy into the up lift ideology that naturalizes class, because she is astutely aware of the fact that good stock and favorable economic circumstances are one and the same. Her own background disqualifies her from full membership in the talented black bourgeoisie. The joke played on Anders on lies in Helgas perf ormance of classher ability to play the role of a lady and inadvert ently fool Anderson into believing that she is of good breeding, or, in other words, that she come s from a stable heteronormative middle-class family. Helgas hysterical fit is both a protest against the interpellation that privileges the heteronormative family and natu ralizes class, and a symptom of the cognitive dissonance she necessarily endures in performi ng a class position of whose cons tructedness she is so painfully aware. Helgas experience in Chicago most strikingly underscores her lack of stable class or family belonging. In the Chicago section Helga is also interpellated as a prostitute, and this


22 interpellation links her lack of family and cl ass instability to the fi gure of the prostitute, particularly in the middle-class Euro-American imaginary. When she arrives in Chicago, Helga heads for her Danish uncles house, hoping to pl easantly surprise him and ask him for money. Instead, she is introduced to her uncles unwel coming wife, who immediately rejects Helgas membership in her husbands family. Well he isnt exactly your uncle is he? Your mother wasnt married, was she? [Y]ou mustnt come here any more. Itwell, frankly, it isnt convenient (31). Denied membership in the bourgeois family due to her rumored illegitimacy, Helga wanders the streets of Chicago, where sh e is interpellated as a prostitute by male passersby. A few men, both white and black, offered her money, but the price was too dear. Helga did not feel inclined to pay it (37). An encounter with one such passerby in particular, which occurs just after Helgas confrontation w ith her uncles wife, also inscribes her as a hysteric. [A] man, well groomed and pleasantspoken, accosted her. On such occasions she was wont to reply scathingly, but, tonight, his pa le Caucasian face struck her breaking faculties as too droll. Laughing harshly, she threw at him the words: Youre not my uncle. [sic.] He retired in haste, probably thinki ng her drunk, or possibly a little mad (32). The scene clearly enacts the white middle-class construction of the prostitute as hysteric, a construction that originates in nineteenth-century Europe, and thus also links Helg as hysteria to her interpellation as a prostitute.5 The well-groomed and pleasant-spoken white middle-class man who interpellates Helga as a prostitute panics wh en Helga utters what to him is a nonsensical statement, jumping to the conclusion that this prostitute is also insane. The episode also poignantly demonstrates how being disowned by ones white family amounts to a simultaneous denial of ones whiteness and middle-class position. Helgas declaration that the white middle-


23 class stranger is not her uncle constitutes a sp eech act that performs her expulsion from white middle-class respectability. Working-class black women migrating to north ern cities during this period had, for the most part, two options for employme ntdomestic service or prostitution.6 Helga, despite her expulsion from her family, is successful enough in performing middle-class femininity to pursue other options. When she approaches a clerk at the YWCA employment office with her teaching qualifications, the clerk plainly informs her that our kind of work wouldnt do for you [sic.]. Domestic mostly (36). Although Helga is disqualified from wo rking-class labor, the Chicago section of the novel foreshadows her downwar d class mobility. The possibilities for both domestic work and literal pros titution present themselves omi nously, suggesting what Barbara Ehrenreich might call Helgas fear of falling. Fortunately for Helga, she is saved by black womens club activist and lecturer Mrs. HayesRore, whom she accompanies to New York as a hired traveling companion. The trip to New York with Mrs. Hayes-Rore is pivotal in establishing the centrality of self-conscious race and class performativity for Helga, while also emphasizing the extent to which Helga is an anti-a ssimilationist figure. Mrs. Hayes-Rore is most likely based on Mrs. Eve Jenifer-Rice, f ounder of the Chicago South Side YWCA,7 and a philanthropist committed to the domestication of young migrant black womens bodies.8 Naturally, Mrs. Hayes-Rore is curious about Helgas history and her willingness to travel: Now tell me, she commanded, how is it that a nice girl like you can rush off on a wildgoose chase like this at a moments notice. I should think your peopled object, ord make inquiries, or something. At that command Helga could not help sliding down her eyes to hide the anger that had risen in them. Was she to be forever explaining her people or lack of them? But she had said courteously enough, even managing a hard little smile: Well, you see, Mrs. Hayes-Rore, I havent any people. Theres only me, so I can do as I please.


24 Ha! said Mrs. Hayes Rore. If you didnt have any people, you wouldnt be living. Everybody has people, Miss Crane. Everybody. I havent, Mrs. Hayes-Rore. ( 41; ellipses in the original) Helgas lack of people, while threatening her financial stability, gives her not only the freedom to travel, but also on a certain level frees her from the obligation to marry and reproduce, which a middle-class woman belonging to a nuclear family could hardly es cape. Being deeply invested in the bourgeois panic over the threat to collective morality allegedly posed by unattached migrant black women in cities, Mr s. Hayes-Rore is suspicious of Helgas lack of people; Helga consequently feels compelled to confess the stor y of her origin. The philanthropists ensuing admonition that the story of Helgas birth and upbringing dealing as it did with race intermingling and possibly adultery, was beyond definite discussion (42) reinforces the necessity for Helga to enact the performances exp ected of her in any given cultural context. As Mrs. Hayes-Rore explains, among black people, as among white people, it is tacitly understood that these things are not mentionedand therefore they do not exist (42). This dont ask, dont tell policy of parentage and racial origin is, of course, exemplary of the theory of performativity as it relates to speech acts. As Butler states drawing from the work of J.L. Austin, the performative act is not primarily theatrical. W ithin speech act theory, a performative is that discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names (BTM 12-13). Only a performative speech act such as the one Helga utte rs in front of Dr. AndersonMy father was a gambler who deserted my mother, a white immigr antcan bring her ille gitimacy into being. Helga learns, from Mrs. Hayes-Rore, what not to say as part of her class performance. At the same time, Helga cannot take back her claim that she has no people, and this radical assertion situates her outside the networ ks of kinship that mobilize ra cial and class interpellation.


25 In Harlem Larsen complicates Helgas race and class performativity by evoking the often conflicting representational tropes around which de bates among Renaissance literati centered primitivism versus uplift. For Helga this oppos ition takes the shape of a personal conflict surrounding the intersections of her own class and racial ambivalence with her nonheteronormative, and arguably queer, sexuality. An episode in a Harlem speakeasy illustrates Helgas overlapping racial, class, and sexual ambivalences, and triggers her second major hysterical fit, which accompanies Helgas departur e for Denmark. On the level of plot, Helga decides to go to Denmark for what appear to be perfectly rational reason s: her uncle prematurely sends her her inheritance money and suggests that she visit her Danish family in Denmark because they will accept her much more readily th an her Danish family in America; she can no longer tolerate the hypocritical a nd singularly themed speeches of her uplift-oriented entourage; and she can no longer work in a black-owned firm with exclusively black colleagues, a situation which constantly reminds her of black separatism s inadequacy in addressi ng racial inequality. Her experience in the speakeasy, however, explicitly hystericizes her and qu ite literally sets her in motion. The scene does this by violently di srupting a set of binary divisions upon which her performances of race, gender, and class so desperately depend: whiteness/blackness, primitivism/uplift, respectability/sexual abandon, legitimacy/illegitimacy, self-control/hysteria, love/prostitution, and finally hete rosexuality/homosexuality. Debra Silverman argues that Helga feels a danger of losing hers elf in the music and dancing of the Harlem cabaret, a danger of the recognition of her own sexuality (6). For a woman of color in the 1920s, according to Silv erman, this kind of recognition could easily equate to hav[ing] ones sexuality examined a nd put on display as the savage, as Josephine Baker in Paris (6-7). Helga momentarily aban dons herself to the music, is subsequently


26 shocked by her participation in primitivism, and makes an effort to forcibly disentangle herself from the cabarets jungle atmosphere: She was drugged, lifted, sustained, blow n out, ripped out, beaten out, by the joyous, murky orchestra. Th e existence of life seemed bodily motion. And when suddenly the music died, she dragged herself back to the present with a conscious effor t; and a shameful certainty that not only had she been in the jungle, but that she had enjoyed it, began to taunt her. She wasnt, she told herself, a jungle creature. (61) Here Larsen self-consciously plays with the tension between primitivist and uplift representational conventions and the passage demonstrates that she is hardly the model uplift author Du Bois interpellates her as. The fact that she does not explici tly align this opposition with class tensions but instead with debates surrounding racial solidarity in Harlem might explain why her ambivalence escaped Du Bois. Helgas friend Anne Grey, fier cely critical of the racial mixing that occurs in Harlem speakeasies, functions as a caricature for a certain faction of the black bou rgeoisie that tied the uplift project to a polit ics of racial separatism. Anne condemns Audrey Denney, the lovely alabaster-colored young woman in the speakeasy whom Helga dreamily observes from afar, for go[ing] about with white people (62). The woman, according to Anne, is a disgusting creature who holds positively obscene mixed race parties where white men dance with women of color, and who ought to be ostracized (63, 62). Audrey Denney, who for Anne embodies unspeakable transgressions against raci al purity and bourgeois sexual mores, proves to be of particular interest to Helga for those very reasons. De nneys appearance distracts Helga from her awareness of Robert Andersons un canny presence in the speakeasy and Helgas enamored observation of Denney mo mentarily transports her away from her conflicted feelings about jungle music. [The womans] brilliantly red, softly curving mouth was somehow sorrowful.


27 Her pitch-black eyes, a litt le aslant, were veiled by long, drooping lashes and summoned by broad brows, which seemed like black smears. The short black hair was brushed severely back from the black forehead. The extreme dcollet of her simple, apricot dress showed a skin of unusual color, a delicate, creamy hue, with golden tones. Almost like an alabaster, thought Helga. Bang! Again, the music died Anne had rage in her eyes Theres your Dr. Anderson over there, with Audrey Denney. Yes, I saw him. Shes lovely. Who is she? (62) Helga naturally finds Annes tirade against Audr ey Denneys treacherous lifestyle unsettling. As Laura Doyle points out, Helga herself, of course, always and involuntarily goes about with white people in her very genealogy, inwardly suffering the ostracization Anne fantasizes for Audrey Denney (553). Helga chooses to ignore Annes revolting insinuations [sic.] and redirect her attention to the al abaster-skinned woman who for her embodies the beauty of racial hybridity. She felt that it would be useless to tell [Anne and he r friends] that what she felt for the cool, calm girl who had the assu rance, the courage, so placidly to ignore racial barriers and give her attention to people, was not contempt, but envious admiration. So she stood silent, watching the girl (63). While Larsen initially characterizes Helgas investment in Denney as disinterested curiosity, when Denney begins to dance with Anderson, Helga falls into what Doyle appropriately terms a sexua l panic (553) that constitutes he r second major hysterical fit. [T]hat feeling was now augmented by a nother, a more primitive emotion. She forgot the garish, crowded room. She forgot her friends. She saw only two figures, closely clinging. She felt her heart thr obbing. She felt the room receding. She went out the door. She climbed endless stairs. At last, panting, confused, but thankful to have escaped, she found herself again out in the dark night alone, a sma ll crumpled thing in a fragile, flying back and gold dress. A taxi drifted towa rd her, stopped. She stepped into it, feeling cold, unhappy, misunders tood, and forlorn. (64) In the next chapter, immediately after Helgas escape from the scene of hystericization in the taxi, Larsen installs her heroine in a vehicl e that takes her on jour ney of much greater magnitudea boat sailing for Denmark. As Helg a sits on this boat, the text disingenuously


28 suggests that her panic attack is caused by her attraction to A nderson and jealousy of Denney. She wasnt, she couldnt be, in love with the ma n, Helga tells herself as she sits in a boat to Denmark in the next chapter (66). We can ma ke the obvious inference that she can and very much is in love with Robert Anderson, but we s hould not let that prevent us from surmising that she is also in love with Audrey Denney. Gi ven the centrality of Audrey Denneys beauty, elegance, fascinating alabaster color, and untr oubled transgression of racial and sexual taboos, and the careful attention Helga pays to the womans legs, hips, and back, all swaying gently (64) in the chapter that ends with Helg as hysterical escape from Harlem, it is hard to believe that Helgas observation of Denney is in any way disinte rested. The sexual confusion that sets in as a result of her simultaneous attraction to a man and a woman leads Helga to the height of her hysteria in this episode. This disruption of the binary of sexual orientation complements and perhaps even augments the alrea dy sexually inflected disruptions of the racial and class binaries that hystericize Helga. The strict racial and class de marcations of Copenhagen ini tially bring Helga relief from the confusions of Harlem. If Helgas performan ces of race, gender, and class up until this point have largely adhered to the theory of performa tivity articulated by Butler, her performances in Copenhagen are much more self-consciously theatr ical. Larsens Copenhagen is an explicitly theatrical space, portrayed, as Lena Ahlin notes, as a rational Old World city that stands in stark contrast to a chaotic modern New World city such as New York. Ahlin writes: Larsens version of Copenhagen seems almost clinically clean. Here is neither the threat nor the allure of the modern, bustling, and busy American cities. Instead, what we see is the principle of rationality, which informs the entire Copenhagen episode (96). Along with Copenhagens Old World rationality comes a binary co lonial racial division that is in some ways regimented much


29 more strictly than the division marked by Amer icas imaginary color lin e. In the scrubbed and shining whiteness of Copenhagen, Ahlin observes, Helgas blackness is made even more conspicuous and strange (96). The hypervisib ility of Helgas racialized body in Copenhagen turns her self-aware race performativity into self-conscious theatricality. While the delight Helgas family and their friends express about her presence initially suggests to Helga that Danes are not racist, the excitement of he r family and their entourage is soon revealed to be a symptom of white coloni al exoticism. Helga and her family attend a minstrelsy show at the circus in Copenhagen th at enacts a meta-performance of race, which, as Zackodnik argues, parodies white constructions of blackness. [T]his vaudeville performance act is a hybrid construction of African American cultural forms and their masking, of parodied stereotypes that are so exaggerated they mock white notions of blackness rather than African Americans themselves [T]he [white] audience unknowingly laughs at itself as object of the performances parody (141). Helga, however, is initially too repulsed by the performance and by the Danes reception of it to laugh at the spectacle as a joke on white people. Helga Crane was not amused. Instead she was filled with a fierce hatred for the cavorting Negroes on stage. And she was shocked at the avidity at which [the Danish artist Axel] Olsen beside her drank it in. [W]hy their constant slavish imita tions of traits not thei r own? (85). Zackodnik interprets Helgas response as an example of her tendency to mistake racial performance for essence, seeing in the act an aspect of herself, of her identity, that she prefers stay hidden (141). What Helga is not terribly eager to ad vertise, I would argue, is not any essential element of her blackness but her own conscious performance of her racial interpellation.9 Helga is in fact perversely fascinated by the minstrelsy show, secretly returning to it multiple times to ponder its complex double parody and meta-performative character.


30 [S]he returned again and again to the Circus, always alone, gazing intently and solemnly at the gesticulating black figures, an ironical and silently speculative spectator. For she knew that in to her plan of life had thrust itself a suspensive conflict in which were fu sed doubts, rebellion, expediency, and urgent longings. It was at this time that Axel Olsen asked her to marry him (85; my emphasis). Helga is all too aware of her own participation in a kind of minstrelsy, its instrumentality, and its subversive potential. Urgent longings, for both sexu al satisfaction and financial stability, tempt her to perform the role of exotic objet dart for Axel Olsen, the artist who is painting her, in order to arrive at the expedient solution of ma rriage. Helga allows Olsen to select her clothing before pain ting her portrait as she notes her exact status in her new environment as [a] decoration. A curio. A peacock (75). Olsen picks out an outrageous selection of extravagant exoticist apparel, incl uding batik dresses, a leopard-skin coat, a glittering opera-cape, turban-like hats of metallic silks, feathers and furs, strange jewelry, enameled or set with odd semi-precious stones, a nauseous Eastern perfume, and shoes with dangerously high heels (75-6). Fashioned with the ornaments of imperialist and orientalist European aesthetic taste and painted by Axel Olsen, Helga is complete in her exoticist commodification. It is Helgas awareness of the blatant theatri cality of the performance into which she is interpellated that fuels her rebellionher reject ion of the expediency of selling herself into marriage. Olsens proposal magnifies his charac teristically affected and pompous demeanor, rendering the theatrical ity of the scene absu rdly conspicuous. I, poor artist that I am, cannot hold out against the deliberate lure of you. You disturb me. The longing for you doe s my work harm. You creep into my brain and madden me. It may be th at with you, Helga, for wife, I will become great. Immortal. Who knows? I didnt want to love you, but I had to. That is the truth. I make of myself a present to you. For love.


31 His voice held a theatrical note. At the same time he moved forward putting out his arms. His hands touched the ai r. For Helga had moved back. (88-89) Olsen interprets Helgas cool reception of his proposal as a di senchanted acknowledgment of marriage as mere spectacle, but he cannot at firs t conceive of her response as a rejection. In his assured, despotic way he we nt on: You know, Helga, you are a contradiction. You have the warm impulsive nature of the women of Africa, but, my lovely, you have, I fear, the soul of a prostitute. You sell yourself to the highest buyer. I should of course be happy that it is I. And I am. (89) Helgas racial hybridity is not what makes her a contradiction for Olsen. That his portrait of Helga amounts to a primitivist caricature of exces sive African sexuality (91) suggests that he sees her as primarily, if not exclusively, African. This classification is also in line with the strictly binary understanding of race that Ahlin at tributes to Danes as they are represented in Quicksand In articulating his white exoticist fantasy of black female sexuality, Olsen quite accurately pinpoints Helgas positio n in relation to racial primitivism, uplift, and prostitution. White Western modernity, here embodied by Ol sen, cannot reconcile her blackness with her middle-class position, and can therefore only read Helga as a contradiction. Imperialist logic does not expect African primitives to partake in the calculating tendencies of capitalist mentality, which middle-class men and women regularly exhibit. The contradiction Olsen sees in Helga is ac tually a projection of a contradiction within imperialist logic. On the one hand, if the African woman is outsi de market relations, then, as Olsen assumes, she cannot be a prostitute. At the same time, the white colonial imaginary has systematically conflated the figures of black woman, public woman, and prostitute. In tracing the construction of the prostitute in European m odernity, Anne McClintock notes that prostitutes were seen as the metropolitan analogue of Af rican promiscuity (56). Olsens separation of black woman and prostitute, then, is largely opportunistic. McClintock suggests as much.


32 Inhabiting, as they did, the threshold of marri age and market, private and public, prostitutes flagrantly demanded money for serv ices middle-class men expected for free (56). In a colonial scheme wherein black women are considered th e public property of white middle-class men, the prostitute is the pathologizing label for the black woman who insists on being compensated for her labor. In separating black woman from prostitute, then, Olsen actually expresses nostalgia for an earlier moment in colonial and capitalist history when the contradiction of the modern prostitute did not exist. Helgas middle-class standing allows Olsen to momentarily set aside the racialized construction of black prostitute as contradiction and interpellate Helga as a participant in the distinct category of middle-class prostitution, as it is embedded in the institution of marriage. Olsen understands that in order to take full advantage of the opport unities for cultural capital that marriage to Helga promises, he must separate her self-conscious partic ipation in commodity capitalism from his fantasy of her primitive blackness. Helga, however, is fully aware that these strategic categorical dist inctions do not ultimately do away with the colonial dynamics of the proposed arrangement. Even though Olsen is disabused of the belief that Helga, as an African primitive, will automatically welcome his proposal with her warm sensuality, he nonetheless hopes to purchase and display her as an exotic African commodity. In this scene with Olsen, Larsen foresha dows the conditions for her heroines ultimate demise. As she listens to Olsen, Helga f eels a vague premonition, sensing the ominous connection between marriage and her primitivizati on. Abruptly she was aware that in the end, in some way, she would pay for this hour. A quick brief fear ran through her, leaving in its wake a sense of impending calamity. She wondered if for this she would pay all th at shed had (89). Helga courageously proceeds with her intended reje ction of Olsen, in spite of her presentiment of


33 the inevitability of being punished for her rebell ion against white imperialist heteropatriarchy. She said, lightly, but firmly: But you see, Herr Olsen, Im not for sale. Not to you. Not to any white man. I dont at all care to be owned (89). Like her insistence th at she has no people and can therefore do as she pleases, this declarati on is for Helga a rare moment of coherent, nonhysterical assertion of her an ti-assimilationist sensibility. For a woman, especially a woman of color, living in 1920s America, the refusal to have people or be owned equates to completely opting out of participation in heteronormativity. When Helga returns to Harlem, the reemergen ce of Audrey Denney, the racially hybrid and socially transgressive object of Helgas queer desire, foregr ounds the possibility for a nonheteronormative, and possibly ev en satisfying life for Helga. Upon her return, Helga asks to be introduced to Audrey Denney at a party, without, of course, being too obvious. I wish youd introduce me, she tells the hostess. Not soerapparently by request, you know (100). The much anticipated introduction to the racially ambiguous woman who embodies the comfortable controlled performance of a non-heteronormative, cr oss-racial, cross-class identity that Larsen does not allow Helga to achieve, is sabotaged, as Doyle notes, by Robert Andersons momentary seduction of Helga. She stepped out into the hall, a nd somehow, she never quite knew exactly how, into the arms of Robert Anderson. And then it happened. He stooped and kissed her, a long kiss, holding her close. She fought against him with all her might. Then, strangely, all power seemed to ebb away, and a long-hidden, ha lf-understood desire, welle d up inside her with the suddenness of a dream. Helga Crane s own arms went up about the mans neck. (105) Doyle argues that this moment of heterosexual seduction precludes a queer plot movement, and thus leads to the heroines rui n. Helga collides physically with Anderson which keeps her from meeting Denney and ultimately leads to her final undoing near the end of the book (554).


34 Doyle situates Andersons kiss wi thin the history of Atlantic m odernist literature, maintaining that these kisses mark the heroines discovery of her own desire, and they seem to open to her a world of unencumbered transnational freedom; but as it turns out they also constitute the very event that steals her desire and turns it into an experience of violation an d ruin (555). While Doyle makes a convincing case for the ideologica l work done by such scenes of seduction in Atlantic modernist literature in general and Quicksand in particular, I don t see how the idea of desire theft applies to Helga Cran e. If Robert Anderson steals He lgas desire, then this suggests that her desire is rightfully meant for someone else. Doyle implies that this person is Audrey Denney, and this argument appears to be based upon a flawed underlying assumption that there exists a rightful ownership of, singular direct ion for, and exclusive object of desire. Jacques Lacans formulations of desire, hyste ria, and desires relationship to hysteria make it difficult to conceive of how anyone, but especially Helga, can have a grasp on her desire to such an extent that she can have her desire stolen from her. A fundamental aspect of the structure of human desire, as theorized by Lacan, is its ultimate unlplaceability and unknowability. For Lacan, desire is a continua l displacement (Fink 22). Nowhere is this principle of desire more evident than in Helga Cranes trajectory. Helga is a hysteric, and as such she is fundamentally unsatisfied and perpetually displaced as a result of her unsatisfaction.10 No place, be it Naxos, Chicago, Harlem, or Copenhagen, is good enough for her. At the end of the novel we still have no idea of what Helga really wants. To attempt to pin down her desire, then, is to grossly undermine what Doyle calls Helg as straying, queerly sensuous self (545). Helgas desire is queer not only because it is at times directed toward Audrey Denney, but also because it is impossible to place.


35 Furthermore, because of Andersons initial ro le in bringing Helgas desire for Denney to light, he can hardly be singled out as the perpetrator who undoes her queerness. Helgas admiration of Denney in the speakeasy remains entirely calm until Anderson enters the scene, begins to dance with Denney, and turns Helga s admiring curiosity into a full-blown sexual panic. Rather than a thief of Helgas queer de sire, Anderson actually functions as a stand-in for a queer object choice. While Helga is in De nmark, Anderson marries Anne Grey. After her encounter with Anderson at the party, Helga ma kes the conscious decision to pursue an affair with Anderson. Such an affair would be anything but heteronormative, taking place outside the structures of marriage and reproduction. Additio nally, entering Andersons social circle could easily provide Helga with the opportunity to become acquainted with the lovely Audrey Denney, the confident transgresso r of racial and sexual boundari es. In the end, it is not Andersons seduction, but rather, his refusal of Helga that sabotages her queer trajectory and induces in her the temporary insa nity that brings about her fata l fall into religion, marriage, and inordinate participation, despit e all of her previously stated wishes, in the heteronormative reproduction of racialized identity. Anderson, despite his associati on with the likes of Audrey Denney, turns out to be too personally invested in bourgeois respectability and heteropatriarchal institutions to subvert those structures by having an affair w ith Helga. Helga runs into A nderson at another party, where he appears to make a proposition: I want very mu ch to see you, Helga. Alone (107). But his meeting with Helga in a hotel reception room does not turn out the way Helga expected. Instead, Anderson apologizes for acting such a swine at the Tavernors party (108). Helga rewards this expression of bourgeois hypocrisy with a savage sl ap, and hysterically stor ms out of the hotel.


36 Andersons rejection forecloses on the po ssibility of a queer, or even simply nonheteronormative plot. This foreclosure leads to the heroines final a nd fatal hystericization, which appropriately takes the form of an outrage ously theatrical hysteri cal acting out. Larsen sets up this explosive spectacle with the imag e of Helga on a rainy da y, stretched out on her bed so broken physically, mentally, that she had given up thinking. For days, for weeks, voluptuous visions haunted her. De sire had burned in her flesh with uncontrollable violence. The wish to give herself had been so intens e. (110). Fleshly, uncontrollable violence is central in this chapter and remains central for the rest of the novel. From here on out, the text only does violence to Helgas body. Helga unde rgoes a profound psychological, physical, and figurative transformation in a matter of hours, as she goes from lady to Jezebel, and from a sophisticated, sarcastic middle-cl ass Harlemite to a pious, complacent, and provincial Southern preachers wife. Helgas hystericization thus simultaneously sexualizes her, primitivizes her, and re-situates her as working-class. The transformation begins with her clothing. When Helga goes out on a walk in an attempt to snap out of her depressive state, th e elements destroy her dainty attire. Rain and wind whipped cruelly about her, drenching her garments and chilling her body. Soon the foolish little satin shoes which she wore were sopping we t. Unheeding the physical discomforts, she went on, but at the open corner of One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Street a sudden more ruthless gust of wind ripped the small hat from her head (111). As the stock image of her hat blown away signals the beginning of Helgas downward class mobility, the storms assault on her body forces her to break out of her se lf-reflexive fixation on her psychic state and confront material realities.11 [F]orgetting her mental torment, [she] l ooked about anxiously for a sheltering taxi. Hailing a taxi proves unsuccessful and as another whirl of wind la shed her and, scornful of her


37 slight strength, tossed her into the swollen gutte r, Larsen once again inaugurates the figurative inscription of Helga as a working-class prostitute that she introduced in the Chicago section. The figuration of Helga as a working-cl ass prostitute in this chapter is the closest Larsen comes to depicting the material realities of prostitution. Confronted with real and threatening physical discomforts, Helga must fight for her survival, thus momentarily occupying the position of an actual working-class woman. Now she knew beyond all doubt that she had no desire to die. Death had lost all of its picturesque aspects to the girl lying soaked a nd soiled in the flooded gutter (111). Helga Cranes hystericization at the end of Quicksand enacts a racializ ed version of the prostitute as embodiment of mass hysteria over the specter of sexual degeneracy. Having had her hat blown off, having been literally thrown in the gutter, and wearing a now soaking wet red dress, Helga could not be closer in her appear ance to the image of th e working girl in the popular imaginary of the time. Helga finds shelter from the storm in a storefront revival church in Harlem. Soon after entering the church, sh e finds herself laughing uncontrollably at the appropriateness of hearing a hymn that sings of showers of blessings and the ridiculousness of herself in such surroundings (112). Helg a has neither chosen this mise-en-scne nor intentionally selected her costum e. For the first time in the novel, Helga engages in completely unintentional performativity and can do nothing to refuse her interpellation as a fallen woman in need of saving by the congregation. This interpellation, coupled w ith the congregations collective hysteria in singing endless moaning verses about su rrendering oneself to the mercy of the Savior, progressively hystericizes her ( 112). Following the example of a woman [who] had begun to cry audibly, Helga too beg[ins] to weep and inevitably resigns herself to uncontrolled cathartic emotional release (112-13). It was a relief to cry so unrestrainedly, and


38 she gave herself freely to soot hing tears, not noticing that th e groaning and sobbing of those about her had increased, unaware th at the grotesque ebony figure at her side had begun gently to pat her arm to the rhythm of the singing and to croon softly: Yes, chile, yes, chile (113). Helga quickly loses her bearings and performative self-consciousness. Barbara Johnson comments on how the lyrics of the hymn sung in this scene reflect the logic of self-erasure in a merger with the omni potent other (258). Thr ough the duration of the performance, the hymns refrain changes from All of self and none of Thee to Some of self and more of Thee to Less of self and more of Thee. [A]t the moment Helga surrenders to the conversion, the moment the text says, She was lostor saved, the hymn s final refrain is acted out, but not stated: None of self and all of Thee, None of self and all of Thee. (258) Helgas religious conversion momentarily annihila tes whatever subjectivity she has independent of the role of a repentant scarlet oman or pore los Jezebel, as announced by one member of the congregation (113). Kimberley Roberts asserts that throughout the novel Helgas psychological and sexual torment arises out of he r refusal to perform the role of angel or whore, critiqu[ing] a system that has no room for an individual womans existence (112). Her acceptance of the interpellati on as Jezebel toward the end of the novel is symptomatic of the psychological breakdown of Helgas resistan ce to performing normative sexual roles. In surrendering her insistence to arti culate her sexuality on her own terms, Helga momentarily loses the self-conscious dimension of her performativit y. As the heroine reflects, the thing became real (115). This loss of critic al distance causes Helga to simu ltaneously perform the roles of angel and whore at the end of the novel, enactin g Larsens scathing exposure of a hypocritical racial, class, and heteropatriarchal order that in fact desires women who are both angels and


39 whores. Christianity, in its more conservati ve forms, is particularly complicit with heteropatriarchys construction of Helgas hysterical fallen sexuality. The double meaning of conversionits religious connotation and its sy nonymity with hysteriaseems only fitting in this context. Religion becomes a form of so cially sanctioned hysteria, which, in Larsens representation, produces pathol ogical female sexuality. Larsens final hystericization of Helga is perversenot because it excessively sexualizes Helga but because it allows the heroines heretofo re anti-assimilationist hysteria to be co-opted by heteropatriarchy. As with her interaction w ith Axel Olsen, Helga ye t again considers an expedient solution to her sexual longings, n eed for companionship, and apparent social maladjustment. This time, however, Helga ac tually chooses the expedi ent solution. And so in the confusion of seductive repentance Helga Cr ane was married to the [churchs presiding] grandiloquent Reverend Mr. Pleasan t Green (119). Before the spell of religious hysteria wears off, Helga-as-Jezebel seduces and must theref ore marry the reverend w ith a name synonymous with death. Larsens condemnation of the hypocrisy of re ligion in its role of shoring up oppressive class, gender, sexual, and race relations is most damning when it illustrates the fatality of the fall into social conformity that Helgas religious hy stericization enables. The novels denouement sends Helga back to Alabama, this time as a preachers wife, struggling to survive the damage done to her body by the birth of her f ourth child. In this final scene, Helga plans to fully recover and run away from the spiritually and physically abusive prison of marri age and domesticity to which she has been confined. Larsen, however, ultimately refuses the sustainability of Helgas existence: And hardly had she le ft her bed and become able to walk again without pain, hardly had the children returned from the homes of the neighbors, when she began to have her fifth


40 child (136). Larsen thus concludes the novel with Helgas impending death at the hands of institutional heteropatriarchal violence. In the end, Larsen does not seem to know what to do with Helga Crane. Helga is so completely inassimilable that the narrative can only kill her off. Throughout the novel Helga forcefully and often hysterically resists the racial, class, a nd sexual interpe llations of a heteronormative and colonial so cial order. Her shockingly heteronormative and racially complacent demise seems uncharacteristic at best. Ultimately, Helgas end represents a caustic critique of the psychopathology of a social order that violentl y enforces the reproduction and naturalization of its fictitious identity categories. Larsens mobilization of an anti-assimilationist protagonist toward this critique proves so successful that in the end Larsen herself finds it impossible to assimilate her heroine with in a coherent and plausible narrative. 1 See Hazel Carby, Policing the Black Womans Body in an Urban Context, Critical Inquiry 18:4 (Summer 1992), 738-55. 2 See Blackmore, Butler, Carr, Hanlon, and Johnson, to name a few. 3 My conceptualization of hysteria has very little to do with floating wombs or similar pathologizations of womens bodies. I understand Helgas hysteria as a figurative symp tom of her perpetual resistan ce to social assimilation. 4 See, for instance, Freud, Lacan, Gallop, Findlay, and Leeks. Findlay makes th e case for the hysterical refusal to be satisfied as a distinctly queer sensibility. 5 See Jann Matlock, Scenes of Seduction: Prostitution, Hysteria, and Reading Difference in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Columbia UP, 1994). 6 See Carby. 7 Thadious M. Davis, Explanatory Notes, Quicksand (New York: Penguin, 2002), 137-54. 8 See Carby. 9 Zackodnik and Jeffrey Gray both argue that Helga falls in to the trap of mistaking th e construct of race for an essential category to which she belongs. I maintain that Helga is ambivalent about the intrinsic value of a racial essence as well as her own belonging to a particular race and am more interested in the ways in which Helgas subjectivity resists this kind of essentialism. 10 For Lacans views on the relationship between hysteria and desire, see Fink 20-24.


41 11 For the relationship between hats, class, unaccompanied women in public, and prostitution, see Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Femininity, Fe minism and the Histories of Art (London and New York: Routledge, 1988).


42 CHAPTER 3 CLAUDE MCKAY, THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN, AND T HE ASSIMILATION OF THE QUEER McKays Home to Harlem and Banjo affirm the centrality of black masculinity and sexual dissidence in his transnational an ti-colonial project. The novel s exemplify McKays investment in the intersections of black working-class solidarity and anti-heteronormative sexuality, and their role in creating alternative social networks that resist Western capitalist and colonialist power relations and the hegemonic organization of nationality and sexuality that reproduces those relations. McKays political project in these novels is thus tw ofold: to assert a potent black masculinity that refuses emasculation by colonial forces and to resist heteronormative colonial ideologies. I argue that these tw o dimensions of McKays project are necessarily in tension with another for several reasons. First, McKays celebration of virile homosocial pan-Africanism depends upon a subjugation and allegorization of women that in many ways resembles the allegorization of women in he teronormative colonial discourse. Second, McKays representation of women, particularly of prostitutes, not only objectifies women but actually scapegoats them as complicit with Western imperialism. And third, because, as queer theory has shown, the structures of binary gender and heteronormativit y reinforce one another, an exuberant assertion of triumphant masculinity can only go so fa r in resisting the heteronormative order.1 While McKay represents both heterosexual and queer masculinities, Home to Harlem and Banjo celebrate the sexual freedom of heterosexual men while subordinating expressions of queer sexuality to the level of metaphor and subtext. These novels are blatan tly anti-heteronormative in their celebration of sexually dissident characters who reject family life, but their privileging of heterosexual masculinity and their exclusion of women from the anti-colonial project ultimately impede their imagined queer subversion of colonial structures.


43 Ray, the queer Haitian intellectual protagonist of Home to Harlem and Banjo is also the most explicitly anti-nationalist char acter in these novels. As these narratives work to assimilate Ray into their homosocial pan-Africanism, he become s a site of tension; in certain contexts Ray vehemently objects to the constructs of r ace, nationhood, and their heteronormative reproduction, while in other contexts he functions as McKays spokesperson against interracial marriages and their role in the dissolution of the black African race. Tellingly, when Ray objects to nationalist ideology or to solidarity and community-bu ilding based solely upon a shared racial identification, he does so from a distinctly queer positionality. Whe n, on the other hand, he articulates McKays critique of European greed by making broad pronouncements about feminine white civilization and opportunistic black and white wo men who corrupt black racial solidarity, Ray appears to assume the normative male subject position within heteronormative discourse. Because of this tension, Ray queer s McKays texts in a way McKay, despite his purported commitment to non-hete ronormative representational politics, could not have anticipated. Home to Harlem and Banjo in advancing McKays anti-colonial project, ostensibly also advance a politics of inclusivity that ma kes room for various kinds of marginalized subjectsamong them, sexual minorities. Bu t these novels gender and sexual politics are deeply problematic because, by subtextualizing and thus also desexualizing Rays queerness, they perform the work of not only assimilating queerness into a homosocial order but also of mobilizing that queerness toward a homosocial exclusion of women that ultimately reinscribes the heteronormative social order. The inconsistency of the raci al and sexual politics espoused by Ray signals the ambivalence of McKays own raci al and sexual politics, as well as the texts ultimate inability to fully assimilate this queer character into its pan-African homosocial social organization.


44 Home to Harlem s narrative follows a tripartite structur e. In the first part, Jake, a black working-class American man, has just returned to Harlem after deserting his military service in France because of the militarys in stitutionalized racial segregati on. In this section Jake meets and falls in love with a prostitute who return s his money after a one-time encounter. She then disappears, and Jakes quest to reunite with he r continues until the end of the novels rather loosely structured plot. In the second secti on Jake works as a waiter on a Pennsylvania Railroad train, where he meets and forms a strong homosocial bond with Ray. Ray comes back to Harlem with Jake in the third part, wher e Jake finally finds the woman from the first section, learns her name (Felice), and elopes with her to Chi cago, while Ray, who, as we find out, is engaged, ponders his resentment of married life and its attendant reproduction of racialized identity. In order to put off marriage, Ray takes a job on a fr eighter en route to Australia and then Europe. In Banjo Ray has temporarily se ttled in Marseilles. Banjo depicts the lives of a community of vagabond working-class black men fr om the African diasporareferred to as the beach boysin the French port town.2 As the novels subtitle, A Story Without a Plot suggests, Banjo s narrative is structured even more loosely than Home to Harlem s. The story revolves around the proletarian mens collect ive efforts to earn money from panhandling, playing music, occasionally taking odd jobs, and playing the role of sweetmen in relation to women whose incomes most often come from prostitution. The protagonist Lincoln Agrippa Daily, a.k.a. Banjo, is a workingclass African American who plays the banjo, sometimes in an orchestra with his friends. All of these tran snational men in some way embody anti-nationalism: Banjo throws out his passport upon arriving in Mars eilles, and at least tw o of his friends carry papers stamped with the British governments N ationality Doubtful designation; others carry no papers at all.


45 Queerness, Women, and the Dome sticat ion of Sexuality in Home to Harlem The homosocial bond Jake and Ray fo rm in the second section of Home to Harlem serves as a model for these novels articulation of black homosocial solidarity. Th e train as a setting for the formation of this relationship allows McKay to simultaneously articulate a critique of colonialism and capitalist industrialism and play out an imagined anti-h eteronormative resistance to imperialist structures. Besi des its obvious phallic symbolism, th e train, where an all-black and largely Southern crew serves white passengers, represents capitalism and imperialisms geographically and racially asym metrical schema of industrial development. The stream-roller of progress (155)Rays term for American civilization, part icularly in relation to its devastating impact on Haiticould also be applie d metaphorically to the train. At the same time, the train is not simply an instrument of brut al industrialism; rather, it functions as a site of negotiation between the forces of imperialist and capitalist progr ess and the black proletarian manpower that executes its day-to-day operatio ns. As a massive, phallic, mobile steel construction that connects industr ial centers, transports countl ess raw materials and goods, and contains within it a homosocial black working-cl ass space, the train is loaded with all the appropriate symbolism for the articulation of McKa ys vision of a masculine black working-class solidarity. As a liminal space that enables contact between black working-class men from disparate and distant geographical locales, th e train is also a fitting place for the formation of transnational alliances. Jakes introduction to Ray is also an introduction to the possibility for revolution in the African diaspora, outside the U.S. When Jake first meets Ray, he expresses surprise and incredulity at the revelation that French can be a black mans native languag e. Ray, in response, narrates a brief history of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution. Hearing for the first time the name Toussaint LOuverture, the black slave and leader of the Haytian slaves, Jake exclaims:


46 A black man! A black man! Oh, I wish Id be en a soldier under such a man! (132). Michael Maiwald sees Jakes exclamation as illustrati ve of a personal commitment to a political movement [that] is inseparable from the sentim ental desire for another man and a result of [Jakes] libidinal attraction to Rays narrative construction ( 844). As Ray and Jake bond over their common investment in the narrative of a black male leader who frees other black men from colonial oppression, the text fo regrounds McKays commitment to a homoerotic pan-African revolutionary solidarity. In Home to Harlem Ray himself embodies the homoer oticism inherent in McKays vision of a transnational anti -colonial revolution. Ray vehe mently objects to racialized nationalist politics and th e heteronormative reproduc tion of races and nations. One night, as Ray battles insomnia in th e crews lodgings in Pittsburgh, a series of loosely connected thoughts evokes the connection between his queerness and anti -nationalist sentiment. Race, he muses. Why should he have and love a race? Races an d nations were things like skunks, whose smells poisoned the air of life (153-4). Significantly, this thought come s to him after he has given up hope that love would appease th is unwavering angel of wakefuln ess, for he could not pick up love easily on the street as Jake, (152) and af ter he attempts to comfort himself by picturing a tableau of phallic vegetation from his tropical homeland: All the flower ing things he loved a thousand glowing creepers, climbing and spillin g their vivid petals everywhere Giddy-high erect thatch palms, slender, tall, fur-fronded fern s, majestic cotton trees, stately bamboos creating a green grandeur in the heart of space (153).3 Rays homoerotically inflected fantasy of the natural splendor of Haiti constitutes a dream of a postcolonial existence independent from the perils of We stern industrialization. [S]omeday, he hopes, as he dreams of his hom eland, Uncle Sam might let go of his island and


47 he would escape from the clutches of that magnificent monster of civilization and retire behind the natural defenses of his island, where the steam -roller of progress could not reach him (155). But in the meantime, the sleepless Ray drugs himsel f with the cocaine he finds in Jakes pocket in order to escape from the material reality of the sordid quarters that the richest railroad in the world provided for its black serv itors (156). Thus Rays escapist homoerotic reverie reaches full bloom. He becomes a gay humming-bird, flu ttering and darting his long needle beak into the heart of a bell-flower and a young shin ing chief waited on by gleaming-skinned black boys bearing goblets of wine and obedient eunuchs waiting in the offing ( 157-8). In juxtaposing Rays escape to a prelapsarian dreamland of homoerotic pleasures with his rejection of heterosexual love (the kind Jake would pick up on the street) and of love for nations and races, McKay envisions a utopian queer world of sexual freedom that lies outside the orbits of the modern nation-state and its implication in the proliferation of Western capitalist progress. Despite the occasional passages in which McKay figuratively conveys Rays queerness, Home to Harlem generally portrays Rays sexuality as repres sed at worst and sublimated at best. In this episode, the novel comes closest to gran ting Ray sexual fulfillment. His dream of gay humming-bird[s] and obedient eu nuchs is framed by images that betray his desire for Jake. Before he indulges in his cocaine binge, Ray finds solace in looking at Jake who is sleeping peacefully, like a tired boy after hard playi ng, so happy and sweet and handsome (157). That morning Ray awakens in Jakes arms, shouting for Jake, as a thousand pi ns were pricking [his] flesh All his muscles were loose, his cells we re cold, and he feels the rhythm of being arrested (158). This descripti on of Rays body, as Suzette Spen cer argues, suggests that his cocaine reverie ends in orgasm (191), but his orgasm occurs in a state of sickness, and he is immediately taken to the hospital. Thus even th e singular sexual release that McKay allows his


48 queer character in this in-betw een space of the novels narrative is encoded in a symbolic of pathology. While the virile heterosexual Jake can easily handle indulging in various excesses, Ray, the impotent queer intellectual, must be hospitalized after partaking in his one-man orgy. The celebration of Rays queer sexuality through its connection to McKays anti-colonial vision and its simultaneous pathologization are symptoma tic of McKays conflicting attitudes toward queer masculinity. The evolution of Jake and Rays friends hip negotiates this tension in McKays representations of masculinity and queerness. Wh en the two men are initially introduced, Ray is reading Alphonse Daudets Sapho. [Sapphos] story gave two lovely word s to modern langu age, said the waiter [Ray]. Which one them? asked Jake. Sapphic and Lesbian beautiful words. Thas what we call bulldyker in Harlem, drawled Jake. Thems all ugly womens. Not all And thats a damned ugly name, the waiter said. Harlem is too savage about some things. Bulldyker the waiter stressed with a sneer. Jake grinned. But thas what they is, aint it? He began humming: And there is two things in Harlem I dont understan It is a bulldyking woman and a faggot y man.. (129; McKays ellipses) Maiwald, noting that Jake hums the popular tune about queers in Harlem as he looks through Daudets novel, connects the discussion of queerness to Jakes new knowledge about the diversity of diasporic blackness. This congruence suggests that sexual and linguistic formations of otherness are being addressed at th e same time and that Jakes subsequent incredulousness at Rays fluent French is a displacement of his shock at Rays coded admission of his own homosexuality. Jakes fearful questionAintchu one of us, too? [in response to Rays explanation that he is a native French speaker]only makes sense if it applies to something be yond the French language that Jake cannot reconcile to his own c onception of blackness. (843)


49 Jakes humming alludes to the songs performance in the first section of the novel. The songs lyrics are an adaptation of Bessi e Smiths Foolish Man Blues, rumored to have been banned by the police. The original lyrics are: There's two things got me puzzled, there's two things I can't understand / A mannish actin' woman and a skippi n' twistin' woman actin' man (Garber 320). McKays replacement of Smiths relatively innocuous designations of queers read through a model of inversion with the much more sexua lly explicit but also arguably homophobic terms bulldyking woman and faggoty man is simultaneously indicative of his intent to confront queerness bluntly and his uneasiness with the ch allenge to black masculinity (and femininity) posed by Harlem queers who invert normative gender presentations. Jake and Rays conversation illustrates that Jake harbors homophobic sentiments and sees black masculinity as heterosexual and American when he first meets Ray. As Maiwald shows, these beliefs concerning black nationality and sexuality are most succinctly expressed by Jakes question Aintchu one of us too? (McKay 131). Jakes acquaintance with Ray progressively attunes him to both the national and sexual divers ity of blackness. The story of the Haitian Revolution quickly convinces Jake of the value of the transnationalist project, but his acceptance of Rays queerness is a more gradual development. The change in Jakes attitudes toward queer black sexuality begins when Ray orgasms as he shouts out Jakes name. After he sends Ray off to the hospital, Jake tells himsel f that [w]e may all be niggers aw -right but we aint nonetall the same (159). This insight suggests a more enlight ened view of queer sexuality on Jakes part that allows him to more fully accept Ray as one of us. McKay thus articulates a politics of inclusivity that necessitates an understanding of black masculinity that must make room for sexual as well as national diversity.4


50 The chapter One Night in Philly marks a shift in McKays representation of Rays queerness, dissociating it from pe rversity and aligning it with a ki nd of primal folk sexuality. When Jake takes Ray to a party at his friend Madame Lauras brothel, his intuitive understanding of Rays sexuality leads him to remark to the hostess: Mah frie nds just keeping me company He aint regular, you get me? And I want hi m treated right (191). At first Ray appears incapable of dancing to blues music and McKay ties his inability to feel the rhythm to his inhibited sexuality. Ray initially refuses a young womans invitation to dance: Tickling, enticing syncopation. Ray felt that he ought to dan ce to it. But some strange thing seemed to hold him back from taking the girl in his arms (195). After Ray and the woman order a drink, she makes another advance. [T]he carnal sympat hy of her full, tinted mouth, touched Ray. But something was between them (196). In both cases, the something that holds Ray back is his queerness, but this time McKay momentarily dissoci ates this queerness from its alignment with Rays perverse disinterest in women. Immediately after we are told that something was between them, we are presented with Rays distraction by the piano players dim, far-away, ancestral source of music. Far, far away from music-hall syncopation and jazz, he was lost in so me sensual dream of his own. No tortures, banal shrieks and agonies. Tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum The notes were naked acute alert. Like black youth burning naked in the bush. Love in the deep h eart of the jungle. The sharp spring of a leopard from a leafy limb, the snarl of a jackal, green lizards in amorous play, the flight of a plumed bird, a nd the sudden laughter of mischievous monkeys in their green homes. Tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum. Simple-clear and quivering. Like a primitive dance of war or of love the marshalling of spears or the sacred frenzy of a phallic celebration. Black lovers of life caught up in their own free native rhythm, threaded to a remote scarce-remembered past, celebrating the midnight hours in themselves, for themselves, of themselves, in a hous e in Fifteenth Street, Philadelphia. (196-97; McKays ellipses)


51 Ive excerpted the passage in its entirety in orde r to maintain the full effect of the texts hyperbolic performance of primitivism. The passa ge overrides the earlier suggestion that the queer Ray is somehow deficient in his ability to feel the sensual rhythm of black music. On the contrary, Ray not only feels the same rhythms as the other, presumably heterosexual, black lovers at Madame Lauras, but is actually more closely attuned to them. While the other lovers and dancers in the Philadelphia house feel remotely connected to the primitive past, Ray is able to clearly envision and lose hi mself in an entire mise-en-scne of phallic jungle rituals. It is this disparity in attunement to primal rhythms that constitutes the unbri dgeable gap between Ray and the woman who pursues his company. Rath er than alienating the queer Ray, McKays primitivist aesthetic actually naturalizes his sexuality and aligns it with a kind of authentic folk blackness, as his trancelike reveri e transports him to a sacred fr enzy of a phallic celebration that transcends the intimation of music-hall syncopation and jazz pervading the atmosphere at Madame Lauras. As in the speakeasy scene in Quicksand the rhythms of African American music, the kind of music sung by the queer perfor mer Bessie Smith, create a space of possibility for queer sexuality and for sexual expression that cannot be contai ned by the parameters of uplift or bourgeois respectability.5 Home to Harlem thus allows a form of symbolic e xpression for Rays queerness, but this expression does not ultimately challenge the nov els privileging of heterosexual masculinity. The text suggests that Ray is queer, but it also suppresses the consummation of his sexuality. What really happened to Ray that one night in Philly can only be pieced together by reading between the lines and fill ing in the blanks of Home to Harlem and Banjo s intertextual narrative. Rays hypnotic fantasy of primitive dances and ph allic celebrations at Madame Lauras in Home to Harlem ends with ellipses and is ostensibly interrupted by a resounding announcement that a


52 policeman is raiding the establishment. The al arm turns out to be false, as the policeman happens to be a friend of Madame Lauras. Jake later returns to the quarters to find Ray sleeping quietly and asks him the next morning if the policemans intrusion scared him (199). Ray does not remember a policemans presence and su rmises that he must have left before that (200). Since there is no suggestion in the text that Rays trance was deep enough to ignore the arrival of the policeman and si nce it seems impossible that anyone present could have remained oblivious to this disruption, Ray mu st have in fact not been there at the time. The distant phallic celebration into which he escaped, then, was mo re likely literal than just a fantasy. Banjo supports this hypothesis. In Banjo Ray runs into a man with whom he worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad, who insists that Ray join him and his friends for drinks at the Senegalese bar. The acquaintance between Ra y and the railroad waiter, now turned ship steward, we are told, was slight. They had never worked on the same dining-cars, but had met each other casually at the railroad mens quarter s in Philadelphia. Yet they met now and acted like old and dear friends. Meet ing like that was so unique, it s tirred them strange ly (189). It should not require too great a st retch of the imagination to su rmise that Rays mysterious disappearance from Madame Lauras establishmen t, his sensate participation in a phallic frenzy, and his sound sleep upon Jakes return (cont rasted with his frustrated sleeplessness in the Snowstorm in Pittsburgh chap ter), all have something to do with his casual encounter with the stranger staying at the mens quarters. The two mens reunion in Marseilles moves them because it parallels the randomness of their original unique (one-time) sexual encounter in Pittsburgh. The literal consummation of Rays vagabond queer se xuality occurs in transnational spaces where proletarian strangers meet, undetected by policemen, co-workers, and unreliable narrators.


53 The manifest narrative presents us with a rath er different scenario. The morning after the night at Madame Lauras Jake asks Ray why he left the party early when one o the little chippies who was some piece to look at was clearl y interested in him. Ray explains that her perfume turned mah stomach, to which Jake responds, Youse awful queer, chappie (200). Jake then comments on the differences between French and American br othels and women, and Ray admits that he lump[s] all those ladies toge ther, without difference of race (202). Jakes subsequent reflection on the dive rsity of women and sexual experi ences that the world offers affirms his authoritative position in speaking about (hetero)sexual matters. His assertion that theres all kinds a difference in that theah li fe (202) comes off as ironic in light of the monologues ostensible function as an affirmation of the universal ity of heterosexuality. Jake promises to take Ray to a gathering in New Yo rk where he can meet s ome real queens (203), and the connotations of queen offer yet anothe r subtextual queering of the narrative. But ultimately, the point of Ray and Jake s conversation is that Ray must be in need of (hetero)sexual education, a point underscored by the chapters concluding with Jakes allusion to a lil piece o sweetness I picked up in a cabaret the first day I landed from ovah the other side (203), which he will one day tell Ray about. Though McKay expresses ambivalent attitudes toward queer masculinity in Home to Harlem the narrative gradually comes to accept Rays queerness and even suggest that a queer sensibility can be a useful addition to anti-col onial politics. Thus, th e narrative moves a way from a phobic view of queerness and eventually presents a rela tively enlightened view. The same cannot be said for the novels representati on of women. Jakes view of women is structured around a dichotomy be tween women in general, and the woman, or his woman, Felice. Before Jake can reunite with Fe lice, he has to confront a numbe r of aggressive, violent, or


54 otherwise castrating women. Significantly, these women tend to be mulattas, and their vilification is thus consistent with McKays general attitudes toward mulattos. Jean Wagner claims that McKay believed that moral degrad ation was the price [mulattos should] pay for denying their black ancestry, and that their l ack of racial pride placed them irredeemably beyond pale (Wagner 216 in Hathaway 61). Home to Harlem portrays several mulatta women as cold, manipulative, and sexually perv erse. I focus on two in particular. Congo Rose is a singer and dancer at the Congo, one of the few black-owned clubs in Harlem. A real throbbing lit tle Africa in New York, the Congo remained in spite of formidable opposition and foreign exploitation ( 29). The Congo does not admit white people. Black-owned and patronized almost entirely by working-class blacks, the Congo represents a self-sustained community that survives against al l odds at a time when ninety percent of Harlem clubs were white-owned.6 We are told that even high yalle rs, or light-skinned mulattos, were scarce there (30). Jake and his friend Ze ddy head over to the Congo, the best pick-me-up place in Harlem (35), after a raging putty-skinn ed mulattress (33) st arts a fight at the Baltimore where Jake has gone to look for Felice. On the way to the Congo, Jake tells Zeddy: I aint much for the high-yallers afte r having been so much fed-up on the ofays. [sic.] Theys so doggone much alike (36). Zeddy, all uding to Rose, in turn suggests to Jake that a sweet-lovin high-yaller queen (36) can have more in common with them than she does with whites. Not surprisingly, Jake ends up going home w ith Rose at the end of the night at the Congo. Jake subsequently begins what might be called a relationship of convenience with her. Rose provides him with a place to stay and t he mulattress was all a wonderful tissue of throbbing flesh (42). But Jake ultimately finds Rose overly masculine a nd expresses an anxiety about being emasculated by a sweetman situati on. Ive never been a sweetman yet, he tells


55 Rose. Never lived off no womens and never will (40). The self-sufficient Rose in turn begins to lose interest in Jake because she felt no thrill about the business when her lover was not interested in her earnings (114). Rose also turns out to be bisexua l and McKay indirectly connects her bisexuality to her sexual perversit y. When Jake comes home one night and finds evidence that Rose has had a visitor, he supposed ly hadnt the slightest feeling of jealousy or anger, whatever the visitor was. Rose had her friends of both sexes and was quite free in her ways (113). Yet he nonetheless calls her a slu t and everybodys teaser (115). The bisexual Rose then intentionally starts a physical fight with Jake because she gets a thrill out of being hit by her male lover. When Jake, to his own horro r, does deliver what Rose asks for, Rose is relieved. I almost thought he was getting sissy, she tells her friend. But hes a ma-an all right (117; italics in the original ). Disgusted with Roses perv ersity and its co rruption of his conception of his own masculin ityI dont like hit ting no womens (118)Jake packs his suitcase and moves out of Roses. Rose is just one of the many women whom McKay represents as having a natural tendency to incite violence. McKay self-contradictorily repres ents women as not only mens territory but as active pe rpetrators of racial and imperiali st conflict. According to McKay, women quite consciously and deliberately inci te riots among men around the world. One could of course ask how this subj ect-as-territoryherself a parado x, since there are few more objectifying gestures than being territorializedcould possibly have that kind of agency. The answer is complex, and it depends upon a dynami c play of inversion and mystification of gendered power dynamics. Miss Curdy, a middle-class Brooklyn woman, is another vilified mulatta figure in Home to Harlem She also happens to be a particularly unattractive mulatta whose face has purple


56 steaks that disgusted Jake (69). Miss Curdy accosts Jake at a party and triggers his reflection on the ways in which women cause violence arou nd the world. As she approaches Jake, Miss Curdy suggests that Theres many nice ways of spending a sociable evening between ladies and gentlemen. Got to show me, said Jake, simply because the popular phrase intrigued his tongue. And that I can. Irritated, Jake turned to move away. Where are you going? Scared of a lady? Jake recoiled from the challenge, and shuffled away from the hideous mulattress. From experience in seapor t towns in America, in France, in England, he had concluded that a woma n could always go further than a man in coarseness, depravity, and shee r cupidity. Men were ugly and brutal. But beside women they were merely vicious children. Ignorant about the aim and meaning and fulfillment of life; uncertain and indeterminate; weak. Rude children who loved excelli ng in spectacular acts to win the applause of women. But women were so real istic and straightgoing. They were the real controlling force of life. Jake remembered the bal-musette fights between colored and white soldiers in France. Blacks, brow ns, yellows, whites. He remembered the interracial sex skirmishes in E ngland. Men fought, hurt, wounded, killed each other. Women, like blazing torches, egged them on or denounced them. Victims of sex, the men seemed foolish, ap e-like blunderers in their pools of blood. Didnt know what they were fighting for, except it was to gratify some vague feeling about women. (69-70; McKays italics and ellipses) Miss Curdys physical undesirability and sexual forwardness allow McKay to easily disqualify her from a vast pool of passive, objectified, territorialized women, and offer an inverted view of global sexual politics, where women become the agents rather than objects of territorial struggles. Even though fights ove r women among men of differen t racial, national, and class backgrounds posit women as territorial sites for racial and class conflicts whose subjects are


57 supposedly men, here women are scapegoated as the cause of these conflicts. The passage thus mystifies not only women but also racial and class strugg le. Rather than attempt to disentangle intersecting sites of colonial violence, McKay represents wome n and racial or class-based violence alike as mysterious and mysteriously complicit controlling force[s] of life. The added scapegoating of mulattas further mystifies racial and class dynamics, and I will explore this problem in my analysis of Banjo Jakes disgust with women who incite ri ots makes him think of the one woman who doesnt: the beautiful prostitute who return ed his money after a one-night encounter. Jakes thoughts went roaming after his little lost brown of the Baltimore. The difference! She, in one night, had revealed a fine di fferent world to him. Mystery again. A little stray gi rl. Finer than the finest! (69-70) Being a woman, Felice too is a mystery, but, at least in Jakes imagin ation, not a cause of violence. When, toward the end of the novel, a fight does erupt over Felice between Jake and his friend Zeddy, Jake does not blame Felice, but rather sexa disembodied but nonetheless feminized emasculating force. These miserabl e cock-fights, Jake re flects, beastly, tigerish, bloody. They had always sickened, saddened, unma nned him. This wild, shrieking mad woman that is sex seemed jeering at him (328). While, in contrast to the prev ious passage, here McKay foregrounds racial conflict and holds men accountable for the violence in which they engage, he continues to scapegoat women. [H]e was infinitely disgusted with himself to think that he had just been moved by the same savage emotions as those vile, vicious, villainous white men who, like hyenas and rattlers, had fought murdered, and clawed the entr ails out of black men over the common, commercial flesh of wome n. (328; McKays ellipses). The image of clawed out entrails in particular evokes lynchings and the institutionalized colonial and racial violence they emblematize. The descriptions of white me n as hyenas and rattlers invert the racist


58 animalization of black men and reassign the label of monstrosity to the perp etrators of violence. Yet the representation of womens bodies remain s problematic. The flesh of women may indeed be common and commercial, but McKay offers no demystification of the colonial, capitalist, and heteropatriarchal structures that thus commodified it. Home to Harlem provides the narrative clos ure of a national romance.7 As Jake and Felice elope, leaving behind the da ngers of Harlem, their heterose xual union acts as an allegory for the nation. Ray, his queer desire, and anti-nati onalist sentiments seem to disappear as quickly as they surfaced in the novels middle section. Ray must in fact leave the nation, and he emerges out of Home to Harlem as the queer remainder of repres entable sexuality, the nation, and the narrative. The post-na tionalist narrative of Banjo is where that queer remainder enacts a much more visible crisis of representation. Society is Feminine: The Conflicting Politics of Banjo Ray assume s a much more central role in Banjo than he does in Home to Harlem A substantial portion of the story is told from Rays point of view, and the frequency of Rays politically themed conversations makes his function as spokesperson for McKays anti-colonial and anti-heteronormative politics fa irly blatant. Significantly, the views on gender, sexuality, and race, and their relationship to colonial id eology and anti-colonial struggle, that Ray and McKay express at various points in the novel can be puzzlingly se lf-contradictor y. I see this self-contradiction and ideological inconsistency as indicative of the greater complexity of the gender and racial politics espoused in Banjo as opposed to in Home to Harlem and also as symptomatic of McKays self-critique, particularly with respect to his representations of women and femininity. In Banjo in contrast to Home to Harlem Rays sexuality appears to be a non-issue. Ray appears rid of sexual ne uroses, yet, as in Home to Harlem the texts manifest content does not


59 allow him to consummate his queer sexuality. Banjo in fact works to assimilate Rays queerness within McKays pan-African homosocial/homoerotic discourse, and, toward the end of the novel, McKay even makes a disingenuous attempt to hete rosexualize Ray. I see this oblique gesture toward heterosexualization as symptomatic of Banjo s ultimate failure to assimilate Rays queerness. Because, in Banjo Ray embodies McKays ideological contradictions, the failure to assimilate Ray further symbolizes McKays shor tcomings in advancing an anti-assimilationist political agenda. The eponymous protagonist Banjo acts as Home to Harlem Jakes double, which allows Ray to relive his experience from the first novel in a new cultural setting where a different set of rules and sexual conventions facilitate a re-imagining of homoerotic and homosexual possibilities. When Ray meets Ba njo, he immediately befriends hi m; that Banjos rich Dixie accent went to his head like old wine and reminded him happily of Jake (64) plays no small part in Rays attraction to him. Furthermore, the meeting takes place at the beginning of the second and middle section of Banjo, in a chapter tellingly titled Mee ting-Up, and thus structurally parallels Jake and Rays introduction in the second and middle section of Home to Harlem McKay thus sets up Banjo as a revision of Home to Harlem that gives Ray the sexual freedom he lacked in the first novel. Rays re-introduction to the story is couched in descripti ons of his exuberant optimism about his new life in the international port town of Marseilles where any day he might meet with picturesque proletarians from far waters whose names were warm with romance and admire the sweat-dripping bodies of black men who work at the docks, naked under the equatorial sun (67). From the start, McKay allows Ray to think, in his conscious, rational, waking state, about the bodies of actual men, liv ing in the here-and-now, thus representing his


60 queerness much more explicitly than he does th rough Rays fantasies and dreams of primitive phallic imagery in Home to Harlem. Banjo s echo of the dislike for reified national and racial political frameworks that Ray expresses in Home to Harlem is similarly colored by a sense of exuberant queer eroticism. In Banjo, as in Home to Harlem Ray explicitly connects antinationalism with anti-heteronormativity. At the sa me time, McKays figuration of the migrant, expatriate sensibility and its opposition to being domesticated by the nation-state, depends upon a traditional imperialist gendered symbolic that stands at odds with McKays antiheteronormative project. A conve rsation with an American man whose sojourn in Europe had taught him to be patriotic had taught him that he was an American, and who is therefore preparing to return to America to settle down to the business of marriage, leads Ray to silently reflect on why he is utterly uninterested in s ettling down in any nation (137; ellipses in the original): Man loves individuals. Man l oves things. Man loves places. And the vagabond lover of life finds individuals a nd things to love in many places and not in any one nation. Man loves places and no one place, for the earth, lik e a beautiful wanton, puts on a new dress to fascinate him wherever he may go (137). As Brent Edwards notes, this vision of vag abond internationalism (198) is gendered. The imagery that Edwards sees as representati ve of this genderingth e earth dresses like a beautiful wanton to fascinate him ( Edwa rds 206)implies that Rays vision is also heterosexualized. Certainly, the repetition of m an as the subject who loves in a context of traveling the world resonates with the tired imperialist trope of male exploration of territory, where the latter is always gendered female. But Rays articulation of his distaste for settling downin the context of a conversation with a man whose imminent settling down fully reverberates with the terms double connotation of committing not only to permanent residence


61 in a particular place and na tion but also to heterosexual marriage and domesticitydoes not completely square with a heterosexist symbolic logic. Additionally, Rays rumination that it seemed a most unnatural thing to him for a man to love a nation (137) resonates with the fact that it also seems a most unnatura l thing for Ray to love a woman. Ray, as a vagabond lover of life, is not only promiscuous but also decidedly queer. Yet Rays queerness does not fundamentally alte r the traditional scheme of gendering the citizen, the explorer, the nation, and the earth in nati onalist and imperialist discourse. Ray may not be interested in settling down with a woman or in any pa rticular place on earth called a nation, but the earth still wears dr esses for the satisfaction of the male explorer. The earth, like Helga Crane, is flexible in its choice of wardrobe, depending on where and for whom it is performing. Rays adherence to a traditional im perialist symbolic of heteronormative gendering in Banjo is a possible step toward the novels hete rosexualization of its queer protagonist. This imagined vagabond lover of life a ppears to be McKays ideal anti-colonial proletarian black male subject. He resists assimilation by the nation, the bourgeoisie, and its imperative to marry, and loves people of all nati onalities and shades. Gi ven this image of the vagabond lover, coupled Banjo s celebration of the communitarian spirit of vagrants from all parts of the African diaspora and the cosmopolitan mixing of strangers of various shades, the strong anti-miscegenation views Ray later espouses are somewhat puzzling. Ray disapproves of sexual or marital affiliation between black women and white men, and black men and white women, because he feels that race-conscious blacks should demonstrate racial solidarity in keeping to their own race ( 206-07). Furthermore, he seem s to think that only black men are capable of being race-conscious. In a convers ation with his friend Goosey, Ray explains his views on womens participation in miscegenation:


62 In the West Indies, where there are no prohibitory laws, the Europeans have all the black and mulatto concubin es they need. In Africa, too. Woman is woman all over the world, no matter what her color is. She is cast in a passive role and she worships the active success of man and rewards it with her body. The colore d woman is no different from the white in this. If she is not inhibited by race feeling shell give herself to the white man because he stands for power and property. Property controls sex. When you understand that, Goosey, youll understand the mean ing of struggle between class and class, nation and na tion, race and race. Youll understand that society chases after power just as woman chases after property, because society is feminine And youll see that the white races today are ahead of the colored because their women are emancipate d, and that there is greater material advancement among those white nations whose women have the most freedom. (206; my italics) McKay constructs his anti-colonial black proletarianism in opposition to a greedy feminine white bourgeois society.8 Black women who marry white men engage in a form of prostitutionthe kind Helga Crane might have participated in ha d she married Axel Olsensymptomatic of both women and the bourgeoisies complacency and social opportunism. All women are, through outrageous generalization, aligned with the bou rgeoisie, and the feminine is uncritically represented as all that is morally weak, assim ilationist, and inclined toward prostitution. Interracial relationssexual or otherwiseare not scrutinized for their potentially messy power dynamics, but exhibited as just a nother example of the treachery of the feminine, of its disregard for any kind of racial or class solidarity. Significantly, in Banjo McKay draws the connection betw een whiteness, prostitution, the bourgeoisie, and greed most clea rly not through any particular female character, but through a white French chauffeur who supplements his income by pimping. The money he earns from prostitution helps him afford a home in the suburbs, marry a middle-class woman, and assume a hypocritical position of moral superi ority in relation to those who live in or frequent the Ditch (the prostitution district). As Leah Rose nberg notes, McKay presents the Chauffeurs


63 hypocritical respectability as indicative of the larger hypocrisy of European respectability (225). As the working-class chauffeur makes a place fo r himself within bourgeois respectability, he aligns himself, as Ray observes, with the entitled and ennobled and fashionable and snobbish gentry of this age who have the roots of thei r fortunes in the buying and selling of black bodies ( Banjo 289 in Rosenberg 225). It is not the prosti tutes, but the chauffeur who climbs up to bourgeois respectability through profits from prostitution. This poignant example of the bourgeoisies implication in colonialism, and in the capitalist exploitation of black people and women seems to contradict Rays assertion that society is feminine. On the contrary, it appears that a white masculine society, embodied by the chauffeur is most directly implicated in the kind of social climbing that disregards class solidarity and takes advantage of women and people of color. While the subjective lives of prostitutes are not the novels primary focus, when McKay does address this topic in Banjo he expresses an unexpected level of sympathy with the plight of prostitutes. I see the passage below as self-a ware commentary on the problems of representing bourgeois society as feminine a nd scapegoating women as the se llouts who corrupt racial and class solidarity. When Malty tells a story about Indian sailors who were cheated out of their money at a love shop (250), Banjo explains to Ray that the corruption surrounding these establishments is not the fault of the women who wo rk there, and that their work is in fact quite dangerous: [I]ts the mens them that make the st uff such hard business. I know more about it than you does, pardner, cau se Ise been moh low-down rough-house than you. And you dont know nothing of all what a pants-wearing bastard will do between welching on a bargain and running off and not coming across. Thas why the womens carry guns in them ahmpits and keep a lot a touts foh protecting them. You mustn t fohget that their business aint no picnic. It is hard labor.


64 Ray could not reply to this. He felt th at there was something fundamentally cruel about sex which, being alien to his nature, was somehow incomprehensible, and that the more civilized humanity becam e the more cruel was sex. It really seemed sometimes as if there were a war joined between civilization and sex. (252) This explicit acknowledgment that prostitution is hard labor stands in contrast with McKays treatments of both femininity and prostitution as compromised positions complicit with Western capitalism and imperialism. The intersectionality of racial, cla ss, gender, and sexual violence literally enacted on the bodies of prostitutes of all races overrides Rays conspiratorial speculations about femininity and its conniving nature. The passage offers a revision of views on the relationship between sex, gender, and civilization espoused elsewhere in these novels. Sex is no longer a madwoman who controls the actions of ignorant men; rather, sex emerges as an instrument developed by white male civilization to keep everyone el se in check. The instrumentalit y of sex for white civilization explains McKays pathologization of white sexua lity. Ray inferred that white people had developed sex complexes that Negroes had not. Negroes were freer and simpler in their sex urge, and, as white people on the whole were not, they naturally attributed over-sexed emotions to Negroes (252). McKay reverses the coloni al construction of black sexuality by positing white sexuality as pathological a nd black sexuality as natural. By shifting the blame for sexual conflict away from womenThis wild, shrieki ng mad woman that is sex seemed jeering at [Jake] ( Home to Harlem 328)and toward the racist sexual fictions of white colonialism, McKay is able to offer a more accurate repres entation of the connection between gender, sexual exploitation, and racial conflict. The sexual cruelty upon which Ray reflects is notably of a uniquely heteronormative variety. Rays queerness is what makes this vers ion of sex alien to his nature, but the passage can also quite easily be (mis)interpreted to propose that sex more generally is alien to his nature.


65 Rays subsequent reflection about his close observation of Negr o sex life (252) suggests just this. McKay asexualizes Ray, situating him as the beholder of an an thropological gaze that observes sex as an institution of which he will never be a part. While the subtextual evidence of Rays queerness hints that there is yet another alternative to the colonial and heteronormative sexual order, McKay never explicitly offers Ray s own sexual experiences as an antidote to the sexual cruelty of Western civiliz ation. Despite the problems with its exclusion of women, the beach boys homosocial community emerges as the most viable alternative to heteronormative colonial sexual dynamics. The communitarian living of the beach boys does in many ways offer a much more forward-looking vision of so cial organization than does Home to Harlem s national romance. The beach boys form a self-sustained homosocial community and share their food, beverage, and financial resources with one a nother. Even when they do find themselves in sweetman situations, they tend not to share the anxieties about emasculation that Jake feels in Home to Harlem The band does include one female member, Latnah, an orientalized North African prostitute. The men think of Latnah as their p al (32) and, as Heather Hathaway observes, she serves an important role in maintaining the group, often providing her friends with food, cigarettes, and money, and prote ct[ing] both them and herself in the face of danger, being willing in one instance to fend off an attacker with a dagger hidden in her clothing (Hathaway 73). At the same time, however, Latnah is quite explicitly othered through orientalist representation and is also portr ayed as a dangerous castrating woman. Demonstrating how she would defend herself if attacked,


66 She slipped from her bosom a tiny argent-headed dagger, exquisitely sharp-pointed, and showed it to [her friend] Malty. He recoiled with fear and Latnah laughed. A razor or a knife would not have touched him strangely. But a dagger! It was as if Latnah had produced a serpent from her bosom. It was not an instrument familiar to his world, his people, his life. It reminded him of the stra nge, fierce, fascinating tales he had heard of Oriental stri fe and daggers dealing with death. (29-30) Even though Latnah is provisionally accepted in th e community, her difference is represented as inassimilable. The self-sufficient, exotic, or iental, hyper-sexualized, Medusa-like Latnah clearly poses a threat to the masculinity of McKays black proletarians. Significantly, only Ray is able to truly bond with Latnahshe is in fact th e only woman in both novels he is shown to be sexually interested in ( Banjo 283-84)and only Ray sees Latnah as a viable member of a transnational community that McKay seems happy to keep solely between men. Although Banjo predominantly connects white prostitutes with calculating capitalism employing white prostitutes as a symbol of Eu ropean greedLatnah too is represented as a capitalist, one who potentially threatens the utopian communita rianism of the vagabond beach boys. Latnahs capitalist tendencies are also tied to her racial difference. While Latnah is African, she is described as Oriental, and re peatedly represented as someone who does not entirely fit in with the beach boys African community. We are to ld that Latnah once tried to collect sous in her tiny jade tr ay (46) at a bar during one of Banjos musical performances. Latnah learns not to attend these performances ther eafter. [S]he could not enter into the spirit of that all-Negro atmosphere of the bar. Banj o was glad she stayed away. Sous! How could he respect sous? He who had burnt up dollars. Why should he care, with a free bed, free love, and wine? (46). In dismissing Latnah as a tact less penny-grubber, Banjo forgets that this North African prostitutes business sense is what provi des him with a free bed and food much of the


67 time. Ironically, Latnah both sponsors the be ach boys relatively ca refree vagabond existence and offers a critique of the ultimate unviability of living entirely outside of capitalism. Latnah represents a revision of the misogynist scapegoating found throughout Home to Harlem and in some parts of Banjo As an economically savvy pros titute of color who protects herself with her dagger, she looks neither to whites, nor to the bourgeoisie, nor to men for status or protection. Yet her racial difference allows McKay to marginalize her within the beach boys community. Ray is the only member of this co mmunity who doesnt see Latnah as other, and Ray and Latnahs shared marginality in rela tion to the novels homo social pan-Africanism allows them to bond. McKays assimilation of Rays queerness into his politics of homosocial pan-African solidarity necessarily leaves much out from Rays personal life. What McKay chooses to include is in itself quite reveal ing. Latnah is the one woman in both of these novels in whom Ray shows any interest, and Rays sexual encoun ter with Latnah is, unsurprisingly, the one relatively unambiguous representation of the consummation of his sexuality with which we are presented. Like Rays phallic primitivist fantasies in Home to Harlem this encounter occurs in a state of intoxication. A cloud of opium colors the episode in unmi stakably orientalist hues. Ray and Latnahs opium-colored evening sp eaks to the expression of the racial and sexual otherness that McKays novels cannot assim ilate. Their shared orientalism represents the queer and the prostitutes inassimilable alterity. When Ray implies that he is familiar with opium, Latnah surmises: I think is leetle Oriental in you (282) The conversation then turns into a discussion about raci al origins and mixedness. Maybe. Theres a saying in my family about some of our people coming from East Africa. They were reddis h, with glossy curly hair. But you have the same types in West Africa, too. You remember the two fellows that used to be at the African Bar during the summer? They looked like


68 twins and were heavy-featured like some Armenians. I think they were mulattres, said Latnah. No, they werent mixednot as we know it between black and white today. Perhaps way back. I heard they were Fulahs. We all mixed up. Im so mixed up I dont know what I am myself. You dont? I always wonder, Latnah, what you really are. Except for the Chinese, I dont feel any physical sy mpathy for Orientals, you know. [] But you are different. I feel so close to you. My mother was Negresse, said Latnah. Sudanese or AbyssinianI no certain. I was born at Aden. My father I no know what he was or who he was. (282-83) The word mixed is central in this dialogue. Initially Ray reserves the word for mulattos, though he quickly retracts this assignment. Mix ed, because of its association with mulattos, carries a negative connotation for him. Latnah as tutely points out that everyone is mixed. There is no such thing as racial purity and her own heritage exemplifies this. Significantly, despite his dislike for the kind of mixing that pr oduces mulattos, it is Latnahs mixedness, her unplaceable ethnicity, that draws Ray to her. Latnah also articulates her and Rays difference from th e rest of the gang. You beaucoup Oriental, said Latnah. Banjo never touch anything strange like us. Il est un pur sauvage du sang. [He is a pureblood savage]. She sighe d (283). The only other place in the two novels where Ray is aligned with orientalism is in the description of his primitivist phallic fantasies during his sleepless night in Pittsburgh in Home to Harlem Ray, unlike Latnah, cannot be easily labeled as an ethnic Oriental. His inscription in orientalist terms is therefore figurative and, as both of its instances illustrate, tied to his sexuality. In Western imperialist discourse orientalism functions as a trope that feminizes the col onized other, representing him as dark, mysterious, and wholly alien to civilized We stern society. McKay modifies this orientalist


69 trope and uses it to represent racial identifica tion and sexuality that do not quite fit into the representational schema of his pa n-Africanism. McKay does not disentangle orientalism from its feminizing connotations, nor does he necessarily reappropriate the trope to challenge Western imperialism. Rays dreams and fantasies may be phallic, but they also f eature the figure of the eunuchthe feminized oriental other par excelle nce. McKay simply uses orientalism to represent the inassimilable. Rays queerness and Latnahs femininity and racial otherness unsettle the coherence of McKays viri le masculine pan-African symbolic. Banjo s conclusion solidifies Latnahs exclusi on from McKays anti-colonial pan-African project and makes a final attempt to assimilate Ray into this homosocial symbolic. While Home to Harlem s narrative closure is that of a national romance, Banjo as Rosenberg argues, is an example of a different genre, a romance of th e race, which McKay constructs in opposition to a national romance. The romance ends not in a marriage symbolic of national unity but with the pairing of two strong men, Ray and Banjo, setting off together to vagabond through Europe. Their homosocial and homoerotic partnership symbolizes the need for a black international solidarity (223). Banjos questi on for Ray as they set off on this journeyYou gwine with a man or you aint? (325)is particularly emblema tic of this black homosocial/homoerotic solidarity. When Ray as ks if they can take Latnah along, Banjos admonition, Dont get soft ovah any wimmens, pa rdner. Thas you big w eakness, interpellates Ray as heterosexual in order to articulate a homosocial a nd anti-heteronormative project that is at the same time not queer. Given Home to Harlem and Banjo s ambivalent representations of Rays queerness, McKays disingenuous heterosexua lization of Ray in the final paragraph of Banjo is symptomatic of these novels inability to fully assimilate Rays queerness into their homosocial symbolic. Additionally, Banjos claim that a woman is a conjunction (326) further


70 signifies the problematic exclus ion of women from McKays anti -colonial project. Yet the conclusion of Banjo also points to McKays awareness of the failure of his representation of womena failure to which he alludes earlier when Banjo sympathizes with the plight of the working-class prostitute. Latnah cant come along because, theahs things we can git away with all the time and she [as a woman] just kain t (326). Banjo is likely alluding to the hypervisibility of womens bodies and the social restrictions on the kind of work women can do. In other words, Latnah cant come along not because women cause trouble by virtue of being women, but because laws, governments, and the larger social structure of which they are a part pathologize women, their labor, and their mobilit y. Just as vagabond men can get away with things women cannot, McKay demons trates an awareness that he too may have gotten away with a rather skewed representation of women, c ondoned by the existing representational symbolic. 1 On the mutual reinforcement between heteronormativ ity and binary gender, see the preface to Butlers Gender Trouble 2 Brent Edwards argues that Banjo enacts a politics of vagabond internationalism. See Brent Edwards, Vagabond Internationalism: Claude McKays Banjo The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2003), 187-240. 3 For a thorough analysis of the homoeroticism of this im agery, see Suzette Spencer, S werving at a Different Angle and Flying in the Face of Tradition: Excavating the Homoerotic Subtext in Home to Harlem CLA Journal 42.2 (1998), 164-93. 4 Criticism on Home to Harlem has variously articulated similar concepts Heather Hathaway writes of the novels ethics of inclusion (60), whereas Holcomb argues that Home to Harlem performs a Marxist insistence on inclusiveness (135). 5 For a discussion of Bessie Smith and other queer female blues performers in Harlem, see Garber. 6 See A. B. Christa Schwarz, Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003). 7 See Leah Rosenberg, Caribbean Models for Modernism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys, Modernism/Modernity 11.2 (2004), 219-38. 8 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, society, at the time when these novels were written, referred to respectable or fashionable society.


71 CHAPTER 4 CONCLUSION: MCKAY, LARSEN, DUBOI S, AND TH E PRICE OF UPLIFT In 1929, Du Bois published a review of Banjo and Passing that in many ways mirrors his review of Home to Harlem and Quicksand. Du Boiss reaction to Banjo reiterates his distaste for McKays representation of characters who lack re spectability and restraint, especially in sexual matters. Here are a lot of people whose chief bu siness in life seems to be sexual intercourse, getting drunk, and fighting (136). The review of Passing repeats the conclusion of the Quicksand review[Y]our job is clear. Buy th e bookand its tone is more explicitly patronizing than that in the revi ew of the earlier book. Nella Larsen is learning how to write, Du Bois assures his readers, and is acquiring style (137). The re view differs from that of the previous year in its more favorable evaluation of McKays novel and its lengthier and more serious engagement with Larsens. (Du Bois in fact devotes a more or less equal amount of space to each novel.) On the one hand, Banjo offers a continuation of experiences like Jakes in Home to Harlem and there is nothing intr iguing about this aspect of the novel (136). On the other hand, Du Bois finds the novels race philo sophy to be of great interest. While Home to Harlem s conscious expression racial politics seems to have escaped Du Bois, fortunately the blatant presence of Rays didactic st reet-corner race philosophy in Banjo has not. Yet, instead of offering an analysis of this philosophy, Du Bois simply excerpts long block quotes from Banjo prefacing each with a largely uninsightful one-sentence commentary, such as [McKay] defends plain talk about Negroe s (136). Though Du Bois gives Banjo a more favorable review that he does Home to Harlem he yet again demonstrates how his position as a Renaissance intellectual is worlds apart from McKays. The only passage on which Du Bois makes a critical judgment deals with the Harlem bourgeoisie s ridiculous pretenses of belonging ( Banjo 116) to an upper class, which according to Ray, does not exis t for blacks in America. Du Bois dismisses


72 Rays scathing critique of the black bourgeoisie s delusions of belonging to high society in America as a symptom of McKays uninformed outsider position vis--vi s Americas social structure. With the characteristic reaction, not es Du Bois, of the West Indian who does not thoroughly know his America, [McKay] is bitter a bout society Negroes (137). Tellingly, the final passage Du Bois cites, when taken out of context, appears to favor the social organization of American blacks over that of Africans in othe r parts of the diaspora, suggesting that African Americans unique historical circumstances have allowed them to achieve more r acial progress than non-American blacks. All the things you say about the Negro s progress is true. You see race prejudice [in America] drives the Negr oes together to develop their own group life. American Negroes have th eir own schools, churches, newspapers, theatres, cabarets, restaurants, hotels. They work for the whites, but they have their own social group life, an in tense, throbbing, vital thing in the midst of the army of whites milling around them. There is nothing like it in the West Indies nor in Africa, because there you dont have a hundred million strong white pressure that just carries the Negro group along with it. (qtd. in Du Bois 137) Du Bois designates this final passage as one th at offers evaluation a nd comparison, implicitly interpreting Rays nod to th e de facto social benefits of oppressive institutional racial segregation in America as an advocation of the mythology of American progress, an d fallaciously situating the discussion of African American social organization at the cen ter of McKays race philosophy. Du Bois concludes his review of Banjo by privileging an educated middle-class version of racial philosophy, which he reductively associates with Ray, and abjecting the eponymous working-class protagon ist to a position of socio-po litical irrelevance. The Home to Harlem aspect, Du Bois observes, the dirt of the docks and the maudlin indulgence, fades away as the book evolves, and Ba njo himself becomes almost a forgotten person when he returns from working in coal to take up his role as hero (137; my emphasis). Banj o in fact reclaims his


73 central position at the end of the novel, leading Ray on a vagabond homoerotic journey through Europe, but Du Bois earnestly wishes that the black proletarian who has no need for his American passport be forgotten. Du Boiss review of Banjo not only fails to seriously engage with the novel on an analytical level, but also offers a distorted digest of McKays politics, borne out of a fantasy of cleaning up the dirt of his characters sexual lives and working-class labor. While Du Bois patently misses the point of Home to Harlem and Banjo and offers limited insight on the cultural work performed by Quicksand his review of Passing is much more sophisticated. Unlike McKay, Du Bois can be sympathetic with a mulatto woman such as Clare Kendry who has been brutally kicked in to the white world, and has married a white man, almost in self-defense (138). In contrast to the review of Banjo in the review of Passing Du Boiss expertise in African American sociology allows for an analysis that McKays black (inter)nationalist polemics cannot provide. Du Bo is also seems more willing to engage with Passing analytically than he is with the other three novels because Passing has a coherent narrative plot. The fact that w hole chapters are inserted [in Home to Harlem ] with no connection to the main plot is almost as serious a charge against the novel as the objection to its dirty subject (Two Novels). Banjo, of course, is explicitly A Story Without a Plot of which Du Bois cannot make heads or tails, as his block-quote-heavy review suggests. While Du Boiss brief remarks on Quicksand comment on the novels delicat ely woven plot, the novels narrative feels rather disjointed when compared to Passings finely crafted three-act story. The opening of the Passing review functions as an assura nce that Larsens second novel is much more coherent than the first. Larsen is not only learning how to write and acquiring style, but she is also doing it very simply a nd clearly, writing a good cl ose-knit story (137). Du Bois suggests that the combination of Passings simple, well-constructed story and its


74 insightful exploration of the psychology and sociology of passing for white make Passing a novel that could effect real social and political change. If the American Negro renaissance gives us many books like this, with its sincerit y, its simplicity and charm, we can soon with equanimity drop the word Negro (138). However, by focusing on the novels sincerity, simplicity, and charm, Du Bois is telling only one half of Passing s story. Its cynicism, sarcasm, and irony are surely at least e qually defining elements of the novels tone and message, so defining, in fact, that they ma y easily override the novels sincer ity. Given that the novel presents us primarily with a highly unreliable narrators fantasies abou t and projections onto a woman whom she doesnt trust, I would even go as far as to argue that there is nothing sincere about Passing. This lack of sincerity, does not, however in any way detract from the astuteness of the novels social commentary. Passing isnt in sincere; rather, it pres ents a certain kind of sincerity as an impossib ility in racially schizophrenic 1920s America. Passing then, like Quicksand, is sufficiently damning of the complicit institutions of patriarchy and racism to inspir e change, but it does so not though any kind of honest, nave charm, but through scathing social commentary. While Du Bois recognizes the novels import and sophistication, his patronizi ng characterizations of Larsens second adventure in fiction (136) are both inappropriate and inaccurate Du Bois may understand the psychology and sociology behind the social-clim bing tendencies of bourgeois Af rican Americans, as does Larsen, but where Du Bois is sympathetic toward these tendencies, Larsen is highly critical. That Du Boiss reviews of McKays novels miss the mark by a longshot is hardly surprising. The two Renaissance intellectuals di verge dramatically in ideology as well as national and class sympathies. Equally unsurprising is the fact that Du Boiss reviews of Larsen, a middle-class black writer living in Harlem at the same time as Du Bois, are much more on


75 target. But Du Bois also co-opts Larsens work in the service of a mi ddle-class ideology which her novels bitterly cri tique. Uplift, as Larsen makes clear, comes at a price. In Passing uplift grants her heroines the luxury to sit silently or laugh ne rvously as their passing friends husband hurls vicious invectives toward their race (39-41). It also allows their passing friend to call her husbands brutal, poten tially murderous racism a pet aversion (41). Passing emerges out of this paper as an afterthought because Passing is the story of uplift and assimilation. Of the four novels, only Passing is capable of fully assimilating a socially transgressive protagonist into a coherent narrative plot and a normative social symbolic. Clare Kendrys fate constitutes the best possible scenario for a white heteropatriarchal American social order: she is first rendered raci ally invisible, and eventually made to disappear completely. Home to Harlem Banjo and Quicksand s attempts to assimilate their queer and hysterical characters do not even come close to the magical disappearing act performed by Passing s seamless narrative. Passing spells out the price of the assimilation it enacts. Quicksand Home to Harlem and Banjo on the other hand, are anti-assimilati onist through and through, insisting on social contradiction and refusing to participat e in Faustian transactions with the hegemonic order.


76 LIST OF REFERENCES Ahlin, Lena. The New Negro in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen Stockholm : Lund University, 2006. Bernstein, Leonard. I Am Easily Assimilated. Candide Christa Ludwig, London Symphony Orchestra. Cond. Leonard Bern stein. Rec. 1 Dec. 1989. Deutsche Grammophon, 1991. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity New York and London: Routledge, 1990. ----. Imitation and Gender Insubordination. Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories Ed. Diana Fuss. London, Routledge, 1991. 13-31. ----. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York and London: Routledge, 1993. ----. Passing, Queering: Nella Larsens Psychoana lytic Challenge. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Ne w York and London: Routledge, 1993. 167-85. Carby, Hazel. Policing the Black Womans B ody in an Urban Context. Critical Inquiry 18.4 (Summer 1992): 738-55. Carr, Brian. Paranoid Interpretation, Desires Nonobject, and Nella Larsens Passing PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 119.2 (Mar 2004): 282-95. Davis, Thadious M. Explanatory Notes. Quicksand. New York: Penguin, 2002. 137-54. Dollimore, Jonathan. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Doyle, Laura. Transnationalism at Our Back s: A Long View of Lars en, Woolf, and Queer Racial Subjectivity in Atlantic Modernism. Modernism/Modernity 13.3 (Sep 2006): 53159. Du Bois, W.E.B. Two Novels. Rev. of Quicksand by Nella Larsen, and Home to Harlem by Claude McKay. Crisis (June 1928): 202. ----. Rev. of Banjo Passing, and The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life Book Reviews by W.E.B. Du Bois. Ed. Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, New York: Krauss-Thomson, 1977. 136-39. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Fear of Falling: The Inne r Life of the Middle Class New York: HarperPerennial, 1990.


77 Edwards, Brent. Vagabond Internationalism: Claude McKays Banjo The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2003. 187-240. Findlay, Heather. Queer Dora: Hysteria, Sexual Politics, and Lacans Intervention on Transference. GLQ 1.3 (1994): 323-47. Fink, Bruce. Lacanian Technique in T he Direction of the Treatment. Lacan to the Letter: Reading crits Closely Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota Press, 2004. 1-37. Freud, Sigmund. Distortion in Dreams. The Interpretation of Dreams 1900. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. New York: Avon, 1998. ----. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria 1905. Ed. Philip Reiff. 1963. New York: Touchtone, 1997. Gallop, Jane. Keys to Dora. In Doras Case: FreudHysteriaFeminism 1985. Eds. Charles Bernheimer and Clair Kahane. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. 200-220. Garber, Eric. A Spectacle in Color: Th e Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem. Hidden From History: Reclai ming the Gay and Lesbian Past Eds. Martin Baumi Duberman, Martha Vicinus, a nd George Chauncey, Jr. New York: NAL, 1989. 318-31. Gray, Jeffrey. Essence and the Mulatto Tr aveler: Europe as Embodiment in Nella Larsens Quicksand Novel: A Forum on Fiction 27.3 (Spring 1994): 257-70. Hanlon, Christopher. The Pleasures of Passing and the Real of Race. Journal x: A Journal in Culture and Criticism 5.1-2 (Autumn 2000-Spring 2001): 23-36. Hathaway, Heather. Caribbean Waves: Relocating Claude McKay and Paul Marshall. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. Holcomb, Gary Edward. Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007. Johnson, Barbara. Lesbi an Spectacles: Reading Sula, Passing, Thelma and Loiuse, and The Accused Media Spectacles Eds. Marjorie Garber Jann Matlock, and Rececca L. Walkowitz. New York: Routledge, 1993. 160-66. ----. The Quicksands of the Self: Ne lla Larsen and Heinz Kohut. (1992). Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen, eds. U of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1997. 252-65. Lacan, Jacques. The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power. crits: A Selection. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York and London: Norton, 2002. 215-70.


78 Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. 1928. New York: Penguin, 2002. ----. Passing. 1929. New York: Penguin, 1997. Leeks, Wendy. Loose Talk: Lesbian Theo ry, Hysteria, Mastery and the Man/Woman Thing. Journal of Lesbian Studies 4.2 (2000): 95-114. Maiwald, Michael. Race, Capitalism, and th e Third-Sex Ideal: Claude McKays Home to Harlem and the Legacy of Edward Carpenter. MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 48.4 (Winter 2002): 829-48 Matlock, Jann. Scenes of Seduction: Prostitution, Hysteria, and Reading Difference in Nineteenth-Century France. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995. McDowell, Deborah. Explan atory Notes. Quicksand and Passing. Ed. Deborah McDowell. American Women Writers Se ries (10). New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1986. 243-46. McKay, Claude. Home to Harlem. 1928. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1987. ----. Banjo: A Story Without a Plot 1928. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1957. Pollock, Griselda. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art. London and New York: Routledge, 1988. Roberts, Kimberley. The Clothes Make the Woman: The Symbolics of Prostitution in Nella Larsens Quicksand and Claude McKays Home to Harlem Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 16.1 (Spring 1997): 107-30. Rosenberg, Leah. Caribbean Models for Modern ism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys. Modernism/Modernity 11.2 (2004): 219-238. Schwarz, A. B. Christa. Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003 Silverman, Debra B. Nella Larsens Quicksand: Untangling the Webs of Exoticism African American Review 27.4 (Winter 1993): 599-614. Smith, Bessie. Foolish Man Blues. The Essence of Bessie Smith. MBopGlobalCapriccio, 2006. Spencer, Suzette. Swerving at a Different Angle and Flying in the Face of Tradition: Excavating the Homoerotic Subtext in Home to Harlem. CLA Journal 42.2 (1998): 164-93.


79 Wagner, Jean. Black Poets of the United States; from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. 1963. Trans. Kenneth Douglas. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1973. Zackodnik, Teresa. Commodified Blackness and Performative Poss ibilities in Jessie Fausets The Chinaberry Tree and Nella Larsens Quicksand. The Mulatta and the Politics of Race. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 2004. 115-155.


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Velina Manolova received her Bachelor of Arts with First Class H onours in English, from McGill University in M ontreal, Canada in 2006. Her research interests include twentieth-century American literature, American modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, gender studies, queer theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, cu ltural studies, and, more recently, Alan Turing. In addition to Florida and Canada, Velina has al so lived in Northern Virginia and Bulgaria, where she was born and spent the first eleven year s of her life. She loves traveling and has found the experience of living in severa l vastly different cultural clim ates personally and intellectually enriching. Though highly adaptable, Velina is not easily assimilated.