Instincts

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Larsen’s novel centers on the tragic mulatto. This figure is interwoven with the issues of the “contrary instincts” of female race and sexuality. Critic Deborah McDowell points out that, in focusing on the problems of the tragic mulatto, readers miss the urgent problem of female sexuality. Critic Debra Silverman agrees with this statement but carries it a little further by asserting that it is precisely the “tragic mulatto” who enables the reading of sexuality that McDowell wants to practice; “because Larsen foregrounds color in her text, she uses the focus to illuminate questions of sexuality,” and that by portraying the color border, Larsen enabled readings of other borders as well. “To stop on the border of color, I agree, is a reading that does not touch sexuality, but one cannot examine sexuality in the text without confronting color and the way which color itself becomes sensualized and sexualized.”(599) Critic Kimberly Monda says that Quicksand explores the personal dilemmas that Helga Crane and other black heroines are forced to comply with in order to survive: “self-de...

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