Nella Larsen - Passing

1. Introduction

This term paper is part of the senior seminar Literature and Hybridity held by Dr. Warren Carriou during summer semester 2008.

In the seminar we dealt with the novel Passing by Nella Larsen, which describes the idea of ‘passing’ as a white person in the United States of America, although you have a black background. Legally these individuals would be considered as black at the time the novel is set to be. However, they would not be recognized as black during everyday life due to their looks and appearance.

The protagonists Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry live in two different worlds with two different racial identities. In this term paper I would like to analyze the ways these two characters try to deal with their situations. In my opinion, they have to create an illusion or disguise themselves in order to get along in their or another world. Irene and Clare have different problems to deal with and therefore also different strategies to deal with them.

I will focus on the ideas of illusion, pretense and disguise throughout the book. These motifs are closely related to the occurring racial problems Irene and Clare face.

Finally, when I read the book it reminded me somehow of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When Irene sits in the Drayton (the waving curtains (Larsen 1997 : 13)), it reminded me of the world Jay Getz lives in. Probably, I had a scene of the 1974 motion picture in mind, staring Robert Redford. Nevertheless, I made me think about the illusions which are existing in Gatsby. It is also a world of illusions, but it is a white men’s world. Is there a difference?
That is why I want to compare these two novels in two important aspects. On the one hand, the illusion which is necessary to pass or being recognized and on the other hand the tragic ending. Can one be living on an illusion or better on a lie? To me, this is not possible.

  2. The Illusion in Passing

In this chapter I would like to deal with the idea...