Honors Theses

Date of Award

2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Ethel Young-Scurlock

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

This study explores the life of Nella Larsen, investigating how her unusual childhood and early adulthood provided substance for her to make critical and unique views on race relations and racially dichotomized communities. The study shows how the Harlem Renaissance was essential in providing this outlet to Larsen; it was an era where African American art was lauded. The investigation required research into Larsen's childhood and early adult life using several different pieces of biographical works. After detailing impactful events in her early life, the study developed further with critical analyzation of her fictional short stories and novels. Additional research was required to depict the Harlem Renaissance and explain its potential significance to individuals like Nella Larsen. The results of this academic work find that Larsen developed a sole critical view of interracial relations based on her personal observances and experiences that she described in her various literary productions. She critiqued the strict racial binary that provided limited life opportunities for blacks, especially black women. Larsen also used her status as a novelist to condemn exclusive or divisive environments, similar to those she experienced as an adult and her encounters during the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was important because its uniqueness as an era of artistic expression and progression is what fueled Larsen's desire to pursue her literary interests. The conclusion drawn from this investigation is that Nella Larsen was a woman who, because of her biracial background, never truly assimilated into any environment. Being raised, although for a short period of time, in a white household prevented her from fully adapting to a predominantly black community. She had previously been rejected from an all-white community as a teenager. The Harlem Renaissance provided Larsen the opportunity to show the effects these highly divisive and exclusive environments have on mulatto individuals, particularly women. The conclusion shows that Larsen's innovative approach to race allowed her fictional works to stand out from other literary works of the Renaissance. Her later life of reclusiveness only emphasizes the detrimental effects that encounters with several racially dichotomized environments can have on an individual.

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