The Root of Jealousy
In Nella Larsen's Passing, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry show us a great deal about race and sexuality in the 1920s. Both are extremely light-skinned women of African-American descent. However similar they appear to be, their views on race, a very controversial issue at the time, differ significannot ly. Clare chooses to use her physical appearance as an advantage in America's racist and sexist society, leaving behind everything that connects her to her African-American identity. She presents herself as an object of sexual desire, flaunting herself to gain attention. Irene is practically the opposite, deciding that she wants to remain with the label of being black. She is subtle with her sexuality, never attempting to use her beauty to gain advantages. Linking these two women is a strange relationship, in which Clare and Irene both view each other in a sexually desirable way. Nevertheless, even with that desire for Clare, Irene obviously holds some contempt for her through jealousy, to the extent of wishing that she were dead. This jealousy is also based on social status. Irene is jealous of Clare's ability to succeed, even though she may not know it. The root of Irene's jealousy of Clare is in these three ideas of race, sexuality, and class, making Irene despise someone who she obviously also loves. Irene's desire for Clare is revealed throughout the book, especially in the beginning when she is at the Drayton Hotel. She sees "an attractive-looking young woman
with those dark, almost black, eyes and that wide mouth like a scarlet flower against the ivory of her skin." (p. 14) She is taken aback by Clare's beauty, not fully understanding why she is so infatuated with the woman. Irene can't help but obsess over her beauty, "the eyes that were magnificent! Dark, sometimes absolutely black, always luminous, and set in long, black lashes. Arresting eyes, slow and mesmeric, and with, for all their warmth, something withdrawn...
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