The Passing

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Role of Appearance, Racial, and Social Identity view throughout Passing

“Passing” is the movement of a person who is legally or socially black designated into a white racial category or social identity. “Passing”; a product that came out of Plessy v. Ferguson indicating the equalities between racial identities to become very blatant in social, political, educational, and economic areas that increased and mainly focusing on visually light-skinned women and men being declared “Colored” or “Negro” and more associated with a second class citizenship. Within Passing, Larsen portrays Clare and Irene as women who choose their racial identities. Defining it as “passing in a meeting between Clare and Irene as a simple but ‘hazardous business’,” requiring the “breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment that isn’t entirely strange or friendly” (Larsen ix). By changing the definition of the ability to read racial and social contexts and changing their environment or social class disrupts the ultimate stereotyping that occurs in society. This entitles individuals to both basic human and constitutional rights. However “passing” raises issues forcing to conform to a stereotype that embraces the appearance of skin, color and race. Appearance, racial, and social identity are constructed to suppress the individuals heritage and history which is shown somewhat in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, but is better portrayed in the infamous Rhinelander case that occurred during the same period as Passing. The argument presented is that women, in particular, should not have to physically and mentally askew their appearance, racial, and social status to meet the basic standards of citizenship.

Larsen provides more than one direct way of expressing “passing” because her entire novel is a story that is based on its existence entirely. The argument that is posed is why ‘passing’ is looked down upon but at the same time embraced and admire it because of the exciting repercussions that are instantaneous. Why is ‘passing’ protected? The answer could not be more clearly said than “Instinct of the race to survive and expand” (Larsen 56). Women’s involvement and social growth of the time of the Harlem Renaissance was exponential at the time giving ideas and explanations as the social roles of being “white” and how women at this time were using products to physically make them visibly white. Appearance is the main factor in ‘passing’ and inevitably the entire novel of Passing. Larsen plays upon this role by first introducing the act of passing and its relevancy to appearance and social class. The idea of rejection forms within the beginning of any relatedness to being “tar-brushed”, or being a descendent of a black relative. Fear is intricately shown throughout the novel by the usage of rejection, which was a main idea that paved the way after Plessy v. Ferguson. Showing equality yes, but to the fullest extent creating more of a barrier between classes, races, and appearance of the individual and how it relates to their future.

Using irony and symbolism upon dealing with these reoccurring themes of identity, “passing”, race, consciousness, sexuality, and class distinction mainly between the white and black social classes and citizenships. Larsen uses irony and symbolism to dispel the tragic mulatto literature and give insight on how “passing” affects an individual’s identity and appearance in society. The irony in “passing” is that it is well known and looked down upon, but at the same time vast amounts of others are using the act of “passing” to create and develop a better future for either themselves or their family. The irony and symbolism is that there is a clear and well developed understanding of the consequences of “passing” yet everyone gets involved with it at some point in their life to better themselves. Not realizing the repercussions that may hurt their upbringing and enforce a...
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