Nella Larsen's "Passing"

Essay by Alison SmithUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, October 1996

download word file, 4 pages 3.8

Downloaded 118 times

        In Nella Larsen's Passing, we are privy to Irene Redfield's commentary on her encounters with Clare Kendry. Irene presents herself as a wealthy, well educated, sophisticated woman and a respected member of the Harlem community. Conversely, she 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 great contempt for Clare, she also possesses a deep admiration for her. This 'admiration' could also be translated into sexual desire or lust. Throughout the novel, Irene attempts to rationalize her mysterious feelings toward Clare Kendry, but she can't. To Irene, 'security was the most important and desired thing in life.' (200) Her erotic feelings of adoration for Clare threatened her feeling of security, and that made Irene despise Clare. It is true that before one attempts to address the questions and problems of racial identity, the equally important questions of gender and sexual identity should be addressed.

While it is true that Clare is passing, Irene is passing as well. As a Negro, Clare must 'pass' to gain security in a white world, but by the same token Irene, a lesbian, must 'pass' to gain security in a heterosexual society.

        Until Clare arrives on the scene Irene is a 'secure' woman. She busies herself with social activities and the raising of her two boys (148). However, something is very wrong. While en route to the printing shop, Irene begins to voice her concerns about 'queer ideas' (sex jokes) that the boys had been coming up with (105). 'If sex isn't a joke, what is it,' Brian answers (105). He goes on to say 'the sooner and more he (their son) learns about sex, the better for will keep him from lots...