The Life of Black People in Nella Larsen’s ‘Passing’

Nella Larsen – a novelist of the Harlem Renaissance was a marvelous author to outline and highlight evident and invisible features of the mixed ancestry life. Her book Passing is a very prolific work that showcases the postwar society and what it meant to be born black – possible hardships followed continuously because of your origin. This is a book that magnificently presents the life of black people at all its facets and proves the existence of multiple feelings and moral problems that are inherent in any society disregarding skin color and origin.

This is a story about two African-American women named Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield, brought up in the same conditions, though having different adult lives further on. The story unveils various facets of the human soul and emotions that are hard to call simple: crisis identity, jealousy, betrayal, and even lies. The book is nothing of romantic novels that are touching and moving. What sets the book aside from all others is its ambiguity in the end. It is hard to say definitely what happened at the end of the story; this was the author’s intention to draw reader’s attention to such an end and evoke opinions of the readers on how mean people can actually be.

The girls were growing up in the same conditions when black race was an issue and even confusion for the majority of society. Clare lost her dad and she moved in with her white aunts. She had a light skin color and so the aunts said she would pass and marry the white man. The truth was concealed and Clare’s husband finds out of her race further in the book. Clare leads completely different life from what Irene does. The latter character devoted her life to racial uplift and got married, as well. Her husband was a black doctor.

Having totally different lives, the two women met the other day after a long separation and were seduced at the life of one another. This is a splendid scene included in the book that gives a precise understanding of what the human being actually is. It is unbelievable how one can fight for rights and freedoms and then get absolutely jealous of the life of someone who does not want those freedoms. Irene meets Clare and accuses her of being a traitor because she chose to pass as a white woman and married a white man. Of course, this subject is unveiled like a total disappointment with a friend that Irene trusted and believed in, though there is another feeling – jealousy. Although Irene has been contributing to her society throughout her life, looking at Clare reveals her desire to be like Clare somewhere deep inside. Irene has a light skin color as well, and she sometimes used that, though she would never have enough courage to abandon the background and start another life. That is why the scene when Irene latently envies Clare is double-sided and extremely interesting because virtue and jealousy were fighting each other in Irene’s soul.

This is particularly curious because former girlfriends enter another stage of their friendship – the tragic one. Irene becomes overwhelmed with her suspicions that Clare and her husband have an affair. These suspects become more and more paranoiac. Remarkably, Irene does not trust her anymore and girlfriends get their conflict enhanced. It seems like all the hatred was emerging on the basis of race issues. One woman decided to let go of her cultural identity and have a good life disregarding the trends and movements in the society of the middle of the twentieth century. Moreover, Clare seems to be pretty fine with the life circumstances, while Irene is the one who is not. Narration is unveiled in a way that does not clearly identify the fact of cheating by Clare and Irene’s husband, so you do not know for sure if they really had any sexual affairs. This emphasizes the personal problem of Irene – the disagreement with what her life puts her through. Her character is an example of the fight with reality by any means including accusations of those being on top of societal layers. Here, we can explicitly watch a personal psychological problem called envy. Irene was simply envious of Clare’s life conditions and could not put up with hers. Thus, calling Clare a traitor was just a cry from the heart about unjust social conditions and hatred towards someone who could find a shortcut – a pass.

The book is entirely wonderful as per reveals the societal problems of the middle of the twentieth century through people’s life stories. The two protagonists Clare and Irene in Passing are a splendid reflection of what societal order could do to people and how it could ruin their lives. This book by Nella Larsen has won its deserving recognition among the readers of the modern world because of the eternal issues that arise disregarding times – jealousy and identity crisis. The ambiguity that became a tempting reason to recommend the book to friends and read it over again is a feature of the story – you cannot really tell if Irene killed Clare but the obvious thing is that the lives were already ruined way before the window accident.

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