This one has sort of always eluded me. It was on my best professor’s syllabus for one of the few of her classes I didn’t take, and even when I was sitting down to do Comps lists, I chose Passing instead.
But this book is great. I can’t say I am much of an expert in Black womanhood (most definitely can’t) but this book seems to contain a set of key issues and experiences that go along with it and resonate with my other reading.
Helga Crane starts this novel off as a light-skinned American woman with a white mother and a Black father. She is twenty-two and teaching in a boarding school in the South where the children are treated horribly and she is quickly getting burnt out. She decides to seek out her rich uncle in Chicago who when he meets her, rejects her because of her Blackness. She moves on to Denmark where she has a chance to escape from American racism, but she is concerned with becoming an object of exoticism and fetish and moves back to the US: “‘I’m homesick, for America, but for Negroes. That’s the trouble.'”
Giving the North one last go, she finds that nothing much has changed. Now embittered and desperately seeking identity and connection, she marries a Black minister from the South. But that too is a lost cause.
“For the blacks. The Negroes.
And this, Helga decided, was what ailed the whole Negro race in America, this fatuous belief in the white man’s God, this childlike trust in full compensation for all woes and privations in ‘kingdom come….How the white man’s God must laugh at the great joke he played on them!”
The novel ends in an abrupt but not deadly kind of way that is somehow worse and more sad. Helga is a tragic character and the struggling she puts herself through only enmeshes her further and further into traps of this country.