Passing Essay

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The Root of Jealousy      In Nella Larsen’s Passing, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry show us a great deal about race and sexuality in the 1920s. Both are extremely light-skinned women of African-American descent. However similar they appear to be, their views on race, a very controversial issue at the time, differ significantly. Clare chooses to use her physical appearance as an advantage in America’s racist and sexist society, leaving behind everything that connects her to her African-American identity. She presents herself as an object of sexual desire, flaunting herself to gain attention. Irene is practically the opposite, deciding that she wants to remain with the label of being black. She is subtle with her…show more content…
When Irene finally realizes that this woman is Clare, someone who chooses to “pass” and hide all traces of her black heritage, Irene’s opinion of her changes. She no longer wants to be involved with Clare in any way, and “had no desire or intention of making the slightest effort about Tuesday. Nor any other day for that matter. She was through with Clare Kendry.” (p. 31) Irene is appalled that someone can so easily throw away her background just for the sake of gaining privilege over another race. When Clare asks her if she had ever thought of passing, Irene replies, “No. Why should I? You see, Clare, I’ve everything I want.” (p. 28) She is happy with what she has, not even having to give up anything to get there. Or at least that’s what she convinces herself to believe. Irene is again hypocritical in her beliefs. Even when she opposes Clare’s view of passing, she is still very interested in the idea. “The truth was, she was curious. There were things she wanted to ask Clare Kendry. She wished to find out about this hazardous business of ‘passing’…” (p. 24) She even admitted that she held for her “a fascination, strange and compelling.” (p. 28) Irene doesn’t seem to be able to decide if she accepts passing as reasonable. She forces herself to disagree with passing, allowing her to hate Clare for doing it. This shows us that sexuality and race are two matters that conflict with each other, at least in Irene’s opinion. She uses race to
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