Passing

In Nella Larsen's novel, Passing, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry can be considered as the protagonists. The novel concentrates on the issue of skin color and passing. Passing is when African-American's with light skin pass as white in order to enjoy the privileges that white people enjoyed. Irene Redfield is a middle-class, light-skin African-American woman who regrets passing but occasionally passes as white. She is married to Brian a doctor who is too dark to pass. Irene's life is going along as usual when she runs into a childhood friend, Clare Kendry. Clare Kendry is also a light-skin African-American woman who passes for white. Even her own husband is oblivious of Clare's African American blood. Irene passes not by adopting a white identity as Clare does, but by adopting white values. Throughout the novel Irene changes as she experiences life after her encounter with Clare.

Irene and her husband, Brian, live in Harlem with their two sons. Irene is proud of her African American background and only passes when she needs to in public places. Irene has an encounter with her childhood friend Clare at the Drayton Hotel, ironically Irene is passing as well because she is at this all white hotel. Clare tells Irene that after her father's death, she left behind the black neighborhood of her youth and began passing for white, hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. Irene disapproves of Clare Kendry's passing by keeping the truth from her husband and discourages Clare's desire to renew their friendship even though Irene can, and occasionally does, pass for white herself sometimes. Clare invites Irene for tea, where she meets Clare's husband John Bellew, a racist white man who showed his hate towards white people in a very hostile manner. After this experience Irene is hurt and decides not to have anything to do with Clare Kendry. Clare visits Irene after she has not had any answer to the letters she has sent Irene. At this point Irene mostly takes Clare in out of pity. There Clare finds out about the dance that Irene is organizing and decides that she wants to attend the Harlem party. When Clare witnesses the vibrancy and energy of the community she left behind at the dance, her burning desire to come back and interact with her people threatens her identity and the possibility of John finding out about her racial background. Clare claims Irene as her link to blackness and the people she loves to be with, and in a hidden way Irene settles her desire for whiteness through Clare. Clare becomes Irene's connection to the white world. Irene is somewhat tired of Clare's persistent presence and she also suspects that she and her husband are having an affair that she wishes John could find out about his wife's Harlem outings.

Irene begins to feel ambivalence about her African American heritage, and that ambivalence is associated with Clare's presence in her life, as Irene '...wished, for the first time in her life, that she had not been born a Negro. For the first time she suffered and rebelled because she was unable to disregard the burden of race. It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, an individual, on one's own account, without having to suffer for the race as well. It was a brutality, and undeserved. Surely, no other people were so cursed as Ham's dark children (225). Irene realizes the burden it is to be black and wishes she didn't have to face that problem, her interactions with Clare enables her to see the burden of being black, and the troubles that both have to face because of it. Irene only wishes that John can find out about Clare's outings but not of her race, because she herself is black and she sympathizes with her. At the end of the novel Irene, Brian and Clare are at a party at Felise's house when John arrives and finds out about Clare's racial background. Clare falls to her death from an open window just before her husband is about to confront her with his discovery of her black background. By the end of the novel, Irene has a hard time distinguishing herself from Clare

Throughout the novel Irene Redfield changes as she experiences life after her encounter with Clare. In the beginning Irene is harsher with Clare and she really wants to avoid being friends with Clare but she gives in to Clare's desire to renew their friendship. Deep inside Irene is fascinated by Clare's ability to pass, and Clare is her connection to the white world as she is Clare's connection to the black world. Clare also brings doubt about her pride of being black to Irene. Irene's indifference towards Clare in the beginning turns into appreciation almost obsession towards Clare. Irene learns to understand Clare and builds a friendship with her that she is unable to reveal Clare's indetity to John. When Clare gets so involved in their lives Irene wishes that she could somehow leave and Clare passes away.

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Passing 7.4 of 10 on the basis of 1601 Review.