Summary: Chapter Seventeen
Once Anne and Dr. Anderson return from their wedding, Helga chooses to stay at a hotel, instead of in Anne’s home. Anne agrees, knowing that there are unresolved feelings between Dr. Anderson and Helga. By October, Helga is still in Harlem and has not made plans to return to Denmark. She develops a spiritual connection with the Black community. She feels that she will end up splitting her life between the two places: spiritual freedom in America and physical freedom in Denmark. The thought of returning to Copenhagen does not make her happy, and this she blames on Herr Olsen even though she feels that Herr Olsen is not at fault. Helga thinks about how Anne would react if Helga married a white man. Helga knows that she won’t ever marry a white man, because she is “a fool.”
Summary: Chapter Eighteen
Helga goes to a party in Harlem hosted by Helen Tavenor. The clothing and attitude that Helga has acquired in Denmark has made her very popular. She regrets that her friendship with Anne is fading. Helga knows that Dr. Anderson will always be between her and Anne, but she reflects that anyone could have married Dr. Anderson, whereas only someone special could have received Herr Olsen’s proposal.
At the party, Helga sees James Vayle. She talks to him about his life in Naxos—a town that she considers remote and unimportant—and life in Europe. James tells Helga that he couldn’t imagine living away from Black society for too long. He also states that he does not approve of the white people at the party mingling with the Black people. They talk of marriage, and Helga states that she can’t imagine bringing more Black children into a racist world. James says he is going to ask her to marry him, but Helga feels sorry for him and shrugs it off as a joke. Helga goes upstairs to fix a snag in her dress. When she walks into the hallway, she runs into Dr. Anderson, who embraces and kisses her. She struggles at first, but ends up embracing and kissing him back. She becomes angry and pushes him away, returning to the party.
Summary: Chapter Nineteen
Helga cannot forget the kiss with Dr. Anderson and how it made her feel. She acknowledges that she still respects and cares about Anne but cannot convince herself that the kiss did not matter. Eventually, Helga approaches Dr. Anderson, who tells her that he wants to see her alone. She agrees to see him the next day at eight o’clock. Helga is extremely excited and spends the entire day preparing herself. Dr. Anderson meets her in the hotel lobby and sincerely apologizes for how he acted. Helga replies that it was just a kiss “between friends.” Helga realizes that Dr. Anderson will not give her what she wants. She slaps him and retreats to her hotel room. She feels regret that she may have forfeited something special with Dr. Anderson.
Analysis: Chapters Seventeen–Nineteen
On her return to Harlem, Helga experiences inner conflict about where she should live and ruminates about marriage. Helga’s intermittent regret over not marrying Axel Olsen is juxtaposed with the knowledge that she could never marry a white man, leaving her feeling uncertain about where she belongs. Helga’s amusement at the built-in conflicts of Mrs. Tavenor’s party and her wish to meet Audrey Denney reveal her longing for resolution between her two worlds, but she sees no path that leads to it. Helga’s former and present worlds collide when she compares life in Harlem, Naxos, and Europe during a discussion with James Vayle. This discussion provides Larsen with a platform for exploring the various struggles Black Americans face when living in any of these regions. The fact that this conversation occurs between Helga and a man to whom she was formerly engaged, representing one path Helga could have taken, adds a rueful irony to the scene. Helga’s condescension toward Vayle’s renewed talk of marriage and her dismissive attitude toward his opinions on race and race relations show she still has not resolved her inner conflicts about who she is or where she belongs.
In this section the conflict of Helga’s long-felt ambivalent attraction to Dr. Anderson comes to a crisis, emphasizing Helga’s suppressed sexuality. Helga’s unexamined jealousy over Anne Grey’s marriage to the respectable Dr. Anderson reveals that she both wants what Anne Grey has and cannot admit this to herself. The narrative briefly detours to the perspective of Anne Grey, revealing that though Helga is unaware of her own sexual prowess, Anne Grey is not. Anne Grey’s conscious decision to keep Helga and Dr. Anderson apart foreshadows the kiss between Dr. Anderson and Helga at Helen Tavenor’s party. The kiss awakens Helga’s suppressed feelings for Dr. Anderson and throws her into emotional turmoil that lasts weeks and results in her decisions to pursue a sexual affair with him. She has mentally surrendered to the sexuality she has fought and resented for years, and she is both shocked and enraged when she realizes he has no similar intention of surrender. This awakening of Helga’s suppressed sexuality foreshadows its power to control the course of her life.