Passing by Nella Larson Analysis

Passing Analysis In society we all want to feel accepted and liked by others, but for some it might be harder based on our skin, race or social class. Some people have to go as far as changing their appearance or personality to fit in or “pass” with a certain social class. In the book, To Kill a Mockingbird the idea of duel identities can be seen in the character Calpurnia. Calpurnia is an African American woman in the nineteen thirties working for a white family, but in her free time she is with her African American community.

When she was working for the Finches she would use a big ocabulary and her intellect, were as when she would be with her peers she would seem to dumb herself down as not be seen as “too good” for her ethnic group. In the novel Passing by Nella Larsen, the author brings about the issue of how man must change themselves in order to fit in to certain social groups while trying to suppress the belonging of another with the use of characters, a device not only seen in this book but also in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Clare Kendry is stuck in society passing as a white woman but she is conflicted about returning to her ethnic line as well as Calpurnia. Clare and Cal feel that they need to suppress their ethnic line to have a higher social stand in to fit in with white people. Clare has to try to fit in a social standard at the tea party where all the elites socially gather. In order to not be associated with that might be seen as a lesser social class Clare would maneuver her speech “steering carefully away from anything that might be lead towards race or other thorny subjects” (Larsen 27).

When Clare would associate with others at the tea party she would not talk about race or anything that commends with any lower social class. She would not talk about touchy race subjects to keep er identity hidden from her peers. Cal is surrounded by whites all the time so she has to do all she can to fit in and not stand out in the white society. To be able to be hired and to be taken seriously in this environment she has needs to be smart and forget the lifestyle that she grew up with and her black community. She was so assimilated with white people “her grammar was as good as anybodVs in Maycomb… nd had more education than most colored folks” (Lee 32)”. Back where Cal grew up in Maycomb she sounded like a typical African American, but now that she is surrounded by white folks she has to sound more ducated to fit in with white society. If she talked to her equals she would sound like she wouldn’t belong to their society. In both novels Clare and Cal have urges to go back to their African American roots by getting caught up in nostalgia or conforming back to the way most African Americans are portrayed with their own tongue.

Clare has an overriding urge to return to the African American world she has left. Clare is depressed with her life of passing as a white woman, always having to put on a persona to cover up who she really is and what she wants, instead she longs for a less fictional life. Clare is ever reminded of the life she could have had by “all the time seeing the bright pictures of that other that [she] once thought [she] was glad to be free of… lt’s like an ache, a pain that never ceases” (145).

Clare is reminded that she is missing a life that she could have had and it’s killing her. The author is trying to say that Clare is craving what could have been with the use of beautiful, “bright pictures”; what could have been more beautiful than what is. This misplaced feeling that Clare is facing can also be traced through Calpurnia. Even though he is educated, when Calpurnia is with a congregation of African Americans she slips back into cultural things she once knew, like lose grammar.

When taking the white children she took care of to her African American church, she was confronted by a fellow congregation member. This set Calpurnia into a frustration that eradicated her grammar so much that the children noticed “tones [they] had never heard her use… and she [began] talking like the rest of them” (158). The children recognize that Cal is well educated; she still slips into her ethnic roots. Even though Cal is invested in a part of the white world she still alls back into her old society.

Cal and Clare have a small connection to the black world; even though it might be small it still takes a big effect on them. In both the novels it shows that there are multiple societies in one world. It’s important to recognize the differences between a white society and an African American society. African Americans will try “pass” or fit in with the white society to feel accepted. These stories articulate that African Americans are still seen as a lower social class and people are still trying to break free even if that means changing their identity.


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