Book Report: Due 10/27/10
Passing: Not Only a Racial Issue
In Nella Larsen’s Passing, we get to see the dynamics of the friendship Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry share. Irene presents herself as a wealthy, well educated, sophisticated woman and a respected member of the Harlem community. She is married to a wealthy black doctor, has two children, and a perfect life. Nothing could mess that up. On the other hand, we learn about Clare Kendry through the eyes of Irene. Clare Kendry is the character who seems to stroll undisturbed back and forth across the color line. Irene describes Clare as traitor to her people (the Harlem society) and socially undesirable due to the fact that she passes as white and marries a white man. Although Irene expresses her great disdain for Clare, she also possesses a profound admiration for her. This “admiration” could also be translated into sexual desire or lust. As the book goes on, Irene attempts to rationalize her inexplicable feelings toward Clare Kendry, but she cannot seem to. To Irene, “security was the most important and desired thing in life.” (200) Her mysterious feelings of adoration for Clare threatened her feeling of security, and that made Irene despise Clare. This is probably because Irene would rather maintain a strict perimeter around her sexuality and in adhering to expectations of femininity. Sometimes before one attempts to address the questions and problems of racial identity, they first have to consider equally important questions of gender and sexual identity. While it is true that Clare is passing throughout the story, Irene is passing as well. As a Negro, Clare must “pass” to gain security in a white world and all its wonders. But we see that by the same token Irene, who is questioning her sexuality, must “pass” in order to gain security in a heterosexual society.
Until Clare arrives on the scene of Irene’s life Irene is a...