Nella Larsen?s ” Passing”: Why Claire had to die!

Explain the importance of the concluding scene of Passing to our understanding of the novella. Your response should do more than argue Irene killed Clare, it should explain how this result is forshadowed in the text. In other Words, your essay should be able to answer the larger question concerning why Clare seemingly ” has” to die. The novel ” Passing” by Nella Larsen deals with an America in 1929. The ” Golden Era”, ” The twenties” were very famous in American history. It was the time of the Prohibition, an amendment that outlawed alcoholic beverages. It was a decade of hange, women got the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th amendment. Modern Life” was marked by electric tools, the radio, the movie theatres, the car as a mass transportation system, big malls and the mass consumption. An African- American was voted in the House of Representative in Southern- Chicago. But ” The Twenties” had also something bad to offer, with the rising of the Ku Klux Klan, between 1921 and 1930, 246 African- Americans got killed and in 1929 the Great Depression started. It was also the time that a lot of unemployed blacks moved to the bigger cities n the North especially Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.

The result of this cultural migration was the spreading of Jazz and African- American Literature. From 1920 until about 1930 an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African- Americans occurred in all fields of art. Beginning as a series of literary discussion in the lower and upper Manhattan, this African- American cultural movement became known as ” The New Negro Movement” and later as Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture f African- Americans and redefined African- American expression.

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In the novel ” Passing” Nella Larsen describes the problem of being African- American but while looking like a white American. Clare Kendry passes for white and lived a white life for many years, but is still not happy with her situation. At the end of the novel she dies. Throughout the story it gets clear that Clare did not have a chance to be happy or survive in this world at that time. Before deciding to pass for white, Clare lived an African American identity, not as Irene does as a member of the black middle class, but first as an impoverished daughter of an lcoholic janitor.

After the death of her father she lived with her two white great- aunts who treat Clare as if they were ugly step-sisters in the Cinderella tale. Clare was unhappy with the situation. ” I was determined to get away, to be a person and not a charity or a problem… I know I wasn’t bad- looking and that I could pass ‘ … when I used to go over to the South Side, I used almost to hate all of you” ( Passing 188). Clare turns her back on her back round and where she came from. I guess for a lot of African- Americans that would be a shame.

Clare marries John Bellew without telling him the truth about her original blood. Clare lives a white life. When meeting Irene Redfield she tells her that she thought a lot about her and the people in her old- black- neighbourhood. So it seems already that the black part in her isn’t fully gone. The biggest mistake however was to get married to Mr. Bellew. When Clare invited Irene to a tea in her house it comes out that John Bellew is a racist. Irene and a friend names Gertrude pass and don’t say anything to John. He calls Clare ” Nig” because after their marriage she seemed to became darker.

This probably means that at first under no circumstances she wanted to be white, but when living the white life she wanted to get back to her roots again. Clare asked John ” What difference it would make if, after all these years, you were to find out that I was one or two percent colored? ” ( Passing 201). A very crucial question which staying with a lie or getting back with the truth. But John answers ” Oh, no , nig… nothing like that with me. I know you’re no nigger, so it’s alright… since I know you’re no nigger… No niggers in my family. Never has been and never will be. Passing 201). At this part of the story it is already determined that Clare doesn’t have a chance and that she doesn’t belong to this world. Living a lie in danger can not lead to an happy end and it basically seems to destroy her future while she gets back in touch with her roots. But John goes further when he says what he thinks about Blacks “l don’t dislike them, I hate them …. They give me the creeps. The black scrimy devils And I read in the papers about them. Always robbing and killing people. And,” he added darkly, “worse. ” ( Passing 202). It gets clear that Mr.

Bellew is rather angerous and mirrors the members of the Ku Klux Klan and other racists. Later on Irene and Gertrude discuss the situation just happened and Irene mentioned that Clare said that she is happy but Gertrude has a different opinion and says ” She’ll find out different” ( Passing 205). She is repeating herself twice and when the story goes on Gertrude remains being right. The connection between Irene and Clare is very big and in Clare’s letter for Irene she wrights that she wants to see more of hers and she also admits that her way of passing may not be as good as she thought it would be.

It gets obvious hat Clare is unsatisfied with her life and the situation she is in. She wants to see Irene again, because she is her link to blackness and to the black middle class society. And with Clare living a white life and having a white husband Irene is having a connection to the white world. But Irene doesn’t want to have anything to do with Clare and is even saying that she doesn’t want to be here link to a darker life. Irene thinks that Clare doesn’t care for the race and that they never shouldn’t see each other again and so she never wrote back and threw the letters of Clare into the basket.

But it seems that in Irene, Clare is seeing a chance of a better life, a hope of getting out of everything, but Irene instead doesn’t care about Clare at all. When Clare visits Irene she admits that meeting Irene again changed everything and that she has been so lonely since. In the conversation between the women it shows Irene’s attitude towards Clare and that she doesn’t want to have her around her. But Clare doesn’t want to leave and so she goes to the Negroes Welfare League dance where she gets recognized by everybody which Irene dislikes.

Clare visits Irene now frequently. Irene declares that she would be the happiest thing in the world if she could stay alone in New York, she loves to be there and around Irene without living a lie. But it gets obvious that this wont happen and that her husband will return to take her with him and so that everything will be the old way again. Clare even admits that she is not safe at all. But for Irene Clare is disturbing her house hold, she shows up whenever she can and mostly being uninvited. Irene even fears that her husband Brian is cheating with Clare on her.

She is very serious about it and for her a world collapses. She cries ” hot tears of rage and shame” ( Passing 250) and can’t concentrate on anything else on the tea party. She wants to be recognized and wants the people ” to be aware of her suffering” ( Passing 252). It doesn’t get really obvious in the novel if there is something between Clare and Brian, but it seems that Brian and Clare have a good friendship. The marriage between Irene and Brian wasn’t healthy before Clare showed up, but it seems that Irene searching for a different reason of that mess.

Irene hates Clare and so Clare is not just in danger by her husband but also by her friend. That Irene has something to do with the death of Clare can be seen on page 255. When he broken teacup immediately suggests Irene’s own loss of control, but to cover her confusion, Irene tells Hugh Wentworth that she has broken the cup on purpose, for it “was the ugliest thing … the Confederates ever owned” ( Passing 255). The teacup symbolizes Clare for Irene. The broken teacup brings to Irene a realization that she “had only to break it” and be “rid of it forever” ( Passing 255).

Clearly the shattering of the white teacup foreshadows Clare’s impending death. It looks like Irene has an idea of how to get rid of Clare. Irene can’t stand Clare anymore she wants her out of her life ” She wanted to be free of her, and of her furtive comings and goings… If something would only happen… that what remove Clare. … She didn’t care what. Not even if it were that Clare’s Margery were ill, or dying. ” ( Passing 258). So Irene is losing all of her morals just to get Clare out of her life.

The good mother who loves children, as she said before, doesn’t now even care if Clare’s kid was going to die. But it goes even further When she thinks ” something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare herself, or the race” ( Passing 258). Irene runs into Mr. Bellew when going shopping with a colored friend of hers. John seems to recognize that Irene passes for white and he sees Clare’s face mirroring. First Irene thinks about what would happen if Clare gets divorced from John Bellew, but than she realizes that then Clare would probably stay forever.


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