Summary: Chapter Ten
Helga is increasingly irritated by her friends and by Black society when she receives a letter from her Uncle Peter. In the letter, he apologizes for having to end his relationship with Helga, but he has included a check for five thousand dollars: what he would have left her in his will. He mentions that Helga should contact her Aunt Katrina, in Copenhagen, who will gladly take her in. Helga is conflicted. She wonders, “should she be yoked to these despised black folk?” However, she knows that they are her own people. Helga believes that she doesn’t belong to Black society. She will use Uncle Peter’s money to travel to Copenhagen and visit her Aunt Katrina. Helga spends time preparing the house for a party for Anne. Helga is still grateful for all of Anne’s kindness. Helga dreams of living in a place “among approving and admiring people, where she would be appreciated, and understood.”
Summary: Chapter Eleven
After the party, Helga, Anne, and some of their friends, head out to a jazz club. Helga does not want to go. When she goes out on the dance floor, she does enjoy dancing to the loud jazz music. She tells herself that she is not a “jungle creature,” and tries not to like any of it, despite the variety of ethnicities in the small club. Across the room, Helga sees Dr. Anderson sitting with beautiful, light-skinned woman. Helga learns that her name is Audrey Denney. Anne hates Audrey, because Audrey has white friends (that “know she’s colored”), goes to white parties, and hosts parties where white and Black people mix. Helga tries to figure out why Anne hates Audrey so much. Anne describes Audrey as a race traitor. Helga admires Audrey’s ability to mingle with different groups. When Helga sees Dr. Anderson and Audrey dancing together, Helga becomes upset and takes a cab home, feeling “cold, unhappy, misunderstood, and forlorn.”
Analysis: Chapters Ten–Eleven
The intersection between race and identity becomes clear as Helga becomes more and more disillusioned with Harlem. Once again, Helga does not feel she belongs where she is, and doesn’t know where she could belong. She feels both identity with and rejection from the Black residents of Harlem. The arrival of Uncle Peter’s letter suggesting that she seek out her white Danish relatives highlights the internal conflict Helga frequently faces over her mixed-race identity. Helga’s childhood memory of Aunt Katrina wanting her to stay contrasts sharply with her memories of being mistreated and outcast by her white family in America. Helga’s decision to leave Harlem to live with her aunt in Denmark is heavily informed by her search for belonging, but she still grapples with guilt over her desire to disassociate from society’s tendency to view her as a Black woman.
In the jazz club scene, Helga’s suppressed sexuality and her mixed-race identity collide as Helga confronts both her Blackness and her repressed sexual desire. The intensely sensory language of this scene highlights the importance of personal appearance. Helga perceives and classifies everyone present according to their skin color. She is physically moved while dancing to jazz music, but afterward rejects its sensual effect upon her. Here she mimics the attitude of Anne Grey, who hates white people but mimics white taste in art and music and dislikes Black culture. Yet Helga’s attitude changes when she sees the light-skinned Audrey Denney, whose ability to move between and even integrate the Black and white worlds inspires Helga with respect and envy. Once again Helga is out of step with her surroundings, as her tablemates all agree with Anne that Audrey Denney is wrong for her actions. Helga reacts with longing and jealousy at the sight of Audrey Denney dancing with Dr. Anderson. Her solitary flight to a taxi reveals her unwillingness to attempt Audrey Denney’s feat of bridging the two worlds.