Race, gender, and the limits of physicality in Ourika and Quicksand
A comparison of Claire de Duras's Ourika and Nella Larsen's Quicksand may at first seem puzzling to those familiar with the differing social and historical contexts of the two works. While it may be tempting to read Ourika and Quicksand as governed by either race or gender, such readings do not do justice to the complexity of Duras's and Larsen's characters. In order to truly understand the particular brand of alienation that binds Ourika and Helga in a literary sisterhood and inevitably leads to psychological breakdowns that leave them little more than soulless bodies, one must examine race and gender in the novels in conjunction with one another. By examining the degree to which their identities are simultaneously fractured by both race and gender, it becomes clear that Ourika and Helga's despair lies not just in their inability to find a place in society, but also in their inability to create a personal identity that transcends the stereotypes that so thoroughly trap them in their raced and sexed bodies.