Summary: Chapter Eight

Over the course of a year, Helga settles into work at the insurance company. She finds Anne Grey to be nearly perfect. Anne has fine clothes and a large house with expensive furnishings. Anne asks Helga to live with her permanently, which is a relief to Helga, who was having trouble finding a place of her own. Helga feels happy to finally belong somewhere. She enjoys parties, the theater and art galleries. Helga thinks about marrying someone in Harlem who could provide her with Anne’s lifestyle. Maybe Helga will have children. Helga avoids the white portion of New York, except for its shops and restaurants. She vows to keep her mixed heritage “hidden away from brown folk in a locked closet.”

Summary: Chapter Nine

Helga’s happiness does not last. She becomes restless and starts to dislike her friends, even Anne. Helga finds that her friends, especially Anne. Helga notes that Anne fight for social justice and equality while hating white people, but that Anne also copies the clothes and manners of white people. Helga attends a health meeting for her employer, Mr. Darling, and sees that Dr. Anderson is also in the audience. He approaches Helga, and the two share a cab, talking about everyday life. Helga feels a yearning to spend more time with him, but when they part, he says that she is “still seeking something.” This makes her angry. When he comes to visit her, three days later, Helga decides to meet some friends, leaving Dr. Anderson with Anne. Helga later asks Anne what she thought of Dr. Anderson. Anne tells her that he has left Naxos and is working permanently in New York.

Analysis: Chapters Eight–Nine

Chapter Eight focuses on race and identity as Helga spends her first year happily enmeshed in Harlem’s Black community. This section is full of contradictions as Helga feels both the contentment she lacked in Naxos and feelings of betrayal to both herself and to Anne Grey by concealing her mixed-race identity. Though Helga feels at home in Harlem, her comparison of the distant and sinister white New York to the acceptance of Black Harlem reveals that she dwells on her uncertain place between these two worlds. Helga’s fantasies about marrying an affluent Black man and raising Black children in Harlem in a home similarly luxurious to Anne Grey’s reveal her rejection of her white identity and a full embrace of her Black identity. At the close of Chapter 8, Larsen reveals that Helga has not examined her happiness and juxtaposes this information by alluding to her difficult childhood in white society and her discontented years as part of southern Black society in Naxos, foreshadowing that her opinion will soon change.

Chapter Nine explores Helga’s suppressed sexuality when she re-encounters Dr. Anderson in New York. Helga reacts physically with chills and blushes when seeing Dr. Anderson at a meeting, and her revelation that she has frequently fantasized about him shows that he has remained important to her since their last meeting at Naxos. Helga feels both sexual and emotional attraction to him but resists these feelings and his overtures, suggesting that whatever decision she makes about her attraction to him is fraught with social implications for her. Helga’s contradictory feelings and behavior toward him also highlight how she struggles to access her sexuality. Though Helga wishes for Dr. Anderson’s good opinion, she cannot resist the impulse to hurt him. This ambivalent attitude strongly suggests that Helga is frightened of her own sexual impulses.