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Passing: Close Reading

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Passing: Close Reading
You Ken Tan
Christopher Hennessy
LI 208 U.S. Multicultural Literature
26 Feb 2013
Passing: An Analysis and Close reading
Nella Larsen’s Passing is a story about the tragedy of an African American woman, Clare Kendry, who tried to “pass” in the white American community. However, while she passes as white, she constantly seeks comfort from her friend Irene Redfield who is a representation of the African American community. Gradually, Clare has become the double image of Irene, due to the similarities of their ethnicity and the contrasting lives they lead. At the end of the story, Clare’s death is a result of the extreme burden on Irene’s shoulder due to the presence of Clare in her life. The death of Clare is very much Irene’s responsibility based upon her suspicious acts at the end of the story. The ending of Passing, and of the life of Clare Kendry, begins on the sixth floor of an apartment complex at a party in the home of Felise and Dave Freeland. During the party, Irene says that, “It seems dreadfully warm in here. Mind if I open this window?” (Larsen 110) However, when Irene opens the window, “It had stopped snowing some two or three hours back” (Larsen 110). This means that the weather is still rather cold and despite the freezing temperature, Irene still sits beside the window. Another reason why Irene would want to open the window is because she wants to smoke her cigar. She politely uses the warm temperature in the room as her excuse to open the window. Although this action may seem reasonable today, during the 1930s, there was no social etiquette that required opening a window to smoke. The fact that Irene stays by the window after her smoke makes us question exactly what keeps her warm; perhaps it is her anger and rage towards Clare.
Later when Irene finishes her cigar, she throws it out and “watch[es] the tiny spark drop slowly down to the white ground below” (Larsen 110). To Irene, the sense of falling is either giving her an inspiration for her



Cited: Larsen, Nella. Passing. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

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