Passing: Black People and Hold Clare
Passing: Black People and Hold Clare
People as the victim of inequality and social restriction (“Passing”_Nella Larsen) The novel “Passing” was written in 1929 and become one of the most famous novels of Nella Larsen. Like other novels which were also written about “passing”, “Passing” of Nella Larsen reflects the tough life of African-American in the 19th century, when they were struggling with racism to have the equal rights. Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield in “Passing” both were born Negroes but with light skin so that they could be “passing”.
However, these two women have different choices in their life, which lead to the tragedy when they meet each other after twelve years. The novel ends with Clare’s death without revealing to the readers who kills her, which encourages the readers to think of the uncertain end of “Passing” by logically interpreting evidence throughout of the novel. By that way, Nella Larsen might want her readers to be open-minded to understand how people become the victim of inequality and social restriction in term of race and gender.
Ending her novel in uncertainty, Nella Larsen makes her readers curious about who is responsible for Clare’s death. The two possible things might happen are whether Clare commits suicide or Irene pushes her out of the window. Clare has her reasons to commit suicide since her husband finds out that she was born a Negro. For him, all Negroes are “black scrimy devils” and “always robbing and killing people” (70). These prejudices exist not only in Jack’s mind but also among many white people. These cruel prejudices and discrimination had threatened Clare’s marriage for a long time before her death.
Clare might be always ready for the day that the truth about her race would take everything from her. When Irene asked her whether she thought of how she could do if her husband finds out about her race, she just said yes with a smile. And at the moment Clare stands near the window, “she seemed unaware of danger or uncaring. There was even a faint smile on her full, red lips, and in her shining eyes” (209). When Clare takes a risk by joining the Negroes community, she might prepare for that day, for her death.
However, there are also evidences for the possibility that Irene kills Clare. First, she has the motivation. In Irene’s mind, Clare is one who “not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well” (88). Before seeing Clare, Irene’s life keeps going on under her control: a family with a doctor husband and two kids, living in Negroes community… But Clare comes and raises the fear inside Irene that Clare and Brian, Irene’s husband, might have an affair.
Although Irene doesn’t have any clear proofs for what she suspect, but she can feel it through the changing in attitude of Brian: “For a minute, Irene hesitated, then turned her head, though she knew what it was the held Hugh’s gaze. Clare, who had suddenly clouded all her days. Brian, the father of Ted and Junior…then she saw him smile, and the smile made his face all eager, and shining. ”(169-170). Secondly, the readers can realize how the presence of Clare makes Irene suffers: “It hurt. It hurt like hell…She was very tired of Clare Kendry.
She wanted to be free of her. ”(174-179). The readers also has reason to suspect Irene since she already think of how to get rid of Clare before Clare’s death: “If Clare should die…To think, yes, to wish that…the thought stayed with her. She could not get rid of it”(187). In the party, before Clare falls out from the window, Irene is the one who open it despite of the cold outside. The image of Irene “watching the tiny spark drop slowly to the white ground” makes the readers relates to the falling down of Clare after that (207).
At the moment that Clare stands at the window, Irene “laid a hand on Clare’s bare arm. One thought possessed her. She couldn’t have Clare Kendry cast aside by Bellew. She couldn’t have her free”(209). And watching Clare falls out from the window, “Irene wasn’t sorry. She was amazed”(210). Irene’s thought and attitude towards Clare at the moment she falls out from the window proved that Irene, whether responsible for Clare’s death or not, wants Clare to die. Therefore, the readers can suspect that Irene is the one who push Clare out of the window, leading to Clare’s death.
Despite of many clues support for the possibility that Irene kills Clare, the author doesn’t want an obvious end for her novel. She keeps questioning her readers about how much they could trust what they see. Throughout the novel, Nella Larsen expresses her attitude in ridicule of white people’s blindness when they discriminate black people without knowing who they really are. Jack, a racist, marries a Negro woman because he believes in what he sees. Many people witness Clare’s death but nobody could be sure about what they saw. They even suspect Jack since he is the only white people there.
By ending the novel in uncertainty, Nella Larsen questions her readers about how they interpret and understand who or what pushes people to death. If there is no racism, Clare would not commit suicide, and Jack wouldn’t be suspected just because he is white. Therefore, the most suspicious person would be Irene. If Irene doesn’t have any pressure about keeping her life as it must be according to social norms, she wouldn’t have motivation to kill Clare since she doesn’t love Brian: “She couldn’t now be sure that she had ever truly known love.
Not even for Brian… she still intended to hold fast to the outer shell of her marriage, to keep her life fixed, certain” (201). The image of Irene put her hand on Clare’s bare arms before Clare falling out of the window symbolize for the struggling inside Irene. Irene plays the role of one who could help Clare come back to her community, but she also puts Clare in risk by not telling Clare about Jack seeing Irene with a black woman. Before Clare died, Irene must be the one hold Clare back, but she is also suspicious for killing Irene.
The truth isn’t always revealed in what we see, but also in how we interpret what we know about it, which depends much on our attitude toward it. Nella Larsen let her readers have their own way to think of this uncertain end in order to question their beliefs and their values. This uncertain end of “Passing” also like the uncertainty of people’s life under various pressures comes from social restriction such as race and gender. Clare’s death symbolize for people as the victim of inequality and social restriction.
Subject: Black people,
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 December 2016
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