Summary: Chapter Twenty
Helga feels alone and humiliated. She is most hurt by the fact that she “made a fool of herself.” She decides to go out, wearing her usual evening attire. It is windy and raining, soaking Helga, who has not brought an umbrella or proper shoes. A gust of wind knocks her into a rain-filled gutter. She stumbles into the nearest business, trying to escape the cold. She realizes that it is a religious meeting. The gathered people are singing spiritual songs. She is helped up and brought to the front. She removes her wet coat, and the gathered worshippers see her revealing dress. They call her a “scarlet woman” and “Jezebel,” but start praying for her forgiveness. She wants to leave but is fascinated by the energetic worshippers’ attempt to save her soul. She tries to get up, but not having eaten all day, she collapses. Eventually, she yells out “God have mercy on me!” The people around her are joyous. Helga is motivated to regain “a simple happiness unburdened by the complexities of the lives she had known.”
Summary: Chapter Twenty-One
Helga is escorted back to her hotel by Reverend Pleasant Green. He is described as a “fattish yellow man.” She is still dizzy and exhausted and uses his arm for support on the walk back. She notices that, when she grabs his arm, he sways slightly, affected by her touch. She thinks of the religious experience that she had, and how in contrast to the rest of her life, she has only had possessions. She considers how Dr. Anderson will be shocked and hurt if she pursues Reverend Green. She suddenly becomes obsessed with the need to be married, and she knows that Reverend Green will be easy to convince.
Summary: Chapter Twenty-Two
In the “confusion of seductive repentance,” Helga marries Reverend Green. They live in a small town in Alabama, where Reverend Green is the pastor. Helga is pleased that she has a place of importance as the preacher’s wife. Helga works hard, trying to help the women in the church, but when she is not around, they refer to her as an “uppity, meddling northerner.” Helga accepts that the women in the congregation pay a large amount of attention to her husband. For a while, she is truly fulfilled. She considers how Reverend Green eats loudly and doesn’t bathe or wash his clothes as much as she would like. She is proud that he belongs to her.
Analysis: Chapters Twenty–Twenty-Two
Helga’s suppressed sexuality inverts in this section as she is finally aware of and consciously deploys her sexuality to attain marriage with the Reverend Pleasant Green. She utilizes their sexual encounter as social leverage to insist on marriage. Internally, she misguidedly views the marriage as revenge against Dr. Anderson, hoping the knowledge of it will wound him. Sexual experience now appears to her as the happiness she has been seeking, but she recognizes that its price is marriage. Whereas before she instinctively held back from sexual expression, she now finds in it a sufficient consolation for the absence of the intellectual life and freedom she has given up. The pleasure she derives from marital relations cloud her reason and allow her to deliberately ignore her husband’s displeasing traits.
Helga’s emotional turmoil in the aftermath of Dr. Anderson’s rejection brings her search for belonging to a climax. Although Helga has shirked religion throughout the novel, her desperation for belonging and peace cause her to embrace faith when she stumbles into the religious meeting. The imagery of torrential rain alongside the lyrics of the spiritual music symbolizes a washing away of the old Helga. Helga’s decision to eschew her superficial existence in New York to pursue marriage with the Reverend Pleasant Green is impulsive and though she frames the decision as a practical one, this decision is no different than her decision to leave Naxos, Harlem, and Copenhagen; it is yet another example of her search for belonging. Helga’s life as a preacher’s wife breaks with all her previous existences. The bright clothes, intellectual society, and luxurious surroundings where she used to find happiness are gone, and she lives steeped in poverty and religion. Yet even after the sacrifice of her reason and sense of humor, Helga does not quite manage to fit in. Her efforts to uplift the women of the congregation are perceived as condescension. She doesn’t understand how life is lived in this community, in which she is an outsider.