Nella Larsen’s Passing, published in 1929, recounts the tumultuous reunion of childhood friends, Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield—two light-skinned Black women who have taken dramatically different paths in adulthood. While Irene has married Brian Redfield, a Black doctor and taken on an active role in Black upper-society, Clare has constructed a white identity by marrying, at the age of eighteen, a racist, white man. This article analyzes Larsen’s novel as an exploration into the ways individuals pursue and relate to the concept of security in an unjust society. It argues that the text’s central characters are each passing as a manufactured identity that holds more social capital than their underlying identity and examines the differences in what each character is willing to sacrifice for the security this social capital provides. The article investigates why Irene views Clare as a threat by considering Irene’s marriage to Brian, her queer desire for Clare, and her deep need to access security by conforming to heterosexist expectations. Ultimately, Irene perceives Clare to be threatening because she fears her husband Brian’s attraction to what Clare represents—a rejection of the social norms and expectations of the Black bourgeoisie.
Sowards, Ella Mae
"Security and Sacrifice in Nella Larsen’s Passing,"
International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities: Vol. 14:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/ijurca/vol14/iss2/3