Passing by Nella Larsen

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Elan Witter
English 2000: Perspectives In Literature
Essay #2

Lifestyles of Two Diverse Women
In Nella Larsen’s “Passing”, she introduces a setting in the early 1920s where racial discrimination is mostly taking place. The main characters, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, are interracial (mixed of white and African-American descent) women living in a “passing” society. According to Larsen, “passing” is when African American men or women with a light skin complexion can pass themselves off as a white person in order to enjoy the privileges given to whites during this time. Sometimes allowing yourself to pass can cause a downfall to your happiness in exchange for an idealized lifestyle you once had. Larsen shows us the various similarities between the lifestyles of Clare and Irene based on their marriages and parenting skills.

In “Passing”, Clare is married to a white doctor, John Bellew. Her marriage with him seems like there are some truths left that should be revealed. As soon as John is introduced, he is described as “a tallish person, broadly made. His age… somewhere between thirty-five and forty. His hair was dark brown and waving, and he he had a soft mouth, somewhat womanish, set in unhealthy-looking dough colored face. His steel grey opaque eyes were very much alive, moving ceaselessly between thick bluish lids”, according to Irene (95). This description of John is very precise and descriptive, but it was clear what race he came from. When greeting his wife, Clare, he refers to her multiple times as “nig”, due to the fact that she keeps getting “darker and darker” (95). Deep down inside, Clare is of African American descent, but does not want her husband to know. Clare begins to question her husband, Gertrude and Irene, about racial identities. John believes that there are “no niggers in his family” (96). In this novel, blacks are portrayed as bad people, for instance, they are “always robbing and killing people. And worse” (97). In this...
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