Passing this case meant a white woman’s life.


Passing is a
short novel that centers on two mixed women who reunite in their adult lives
and describe how they are trying to “pass” as white to society. Clare’s motive
for passing is so that she can live a luxurious life with her white husband who
is extremely racist. Whereas Irene is trying to pass when she goes out in
society, her husband Brian is fully aware and is a black doctor. Irene and
Clare’s childhoods and pasts are vague which allows there to be room for
psychoanalysis, particularly with the character Irene and her feelings towards
Clare. Through psychoanalytical criticism of the uncanny moments that occur in
Larsen’s novel Passing build tension between Irene and Clare and it is argued
that Irene pushed Clare from the window that caused her death in order for
Irene to keep her secure life with her husband.

 

when Irene and
Clare discuss what it means to pass as a white woman in society. For Irene, she
only tries to pass when it comes to social outings, whereas Clare’s whole
lifestyle rests on the secret that she passes as a white woman. Before leaving
Clare at the Drayton Irene remarks that “She wished to find out about this
hazardous business of “passing,” this breaking away from all that was familiar
and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange,
perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly” (Larsen 15). Although Irene
understands what passing entails, her situation differs greatly from Clare’s
because of what Clare stands to lose if her racist husband were to do if he
found out. Through their conversation of how Clare has eluded her past from her
husband in order to pass, it can be inferred that Clare’s rough past was her
motivation to live a better life, which in this case meant a white woman’s
life. After the Drayton meeting Irene tries to distance herself from Clare,
which fails due to the persuasiveness Clare has over Irene. This idea of
distancing herself from Clare could be Irene’s subconscious coming through to
protect her from whatever danger Clare could put Irene in. Although as Clare’s
present becomes more regular in Irene’s life, the tension builds and
speculations that Clare is having an affair with Brian force Irene to consider
what would happen if Clare replaced Irene. 

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      When Irene runs into Jack Bellew
while out with her black friend Felise and exposes Clare’s secret, it exposes
Irene’s deep desire to remove Clare from her life so that she can keep her
stable life with Brian. Clare’s secret was meant to stay hidden in order to
protect her status, though now by chance Irene reveals her secret. From a
psychoanalytic perspective, this is exactly what Irene wanted and as Larsen
describes, “Irene was conscious of a feeling of relieved thankfulness at the
thought that she was probably rid of Clare, and without having lifted a finger
or uttered one word” (80). Though at this point Irene is considering the
possible outcomes that could occur between Jack and Clare, would he divorce
her? Her inner narration demonstrates that she would clearly do anything to
keep her life, which asks the question would she ultimately kill Clare to keep
her life? 

 

Ultimately with a psychoanalytic
criticism of the mystifying moments in Larsen’s novel Passing it gives cause
for Irene to kill Clare as either an act of revenge for something that happened
between the two during their childhood, or as a means for Irene to keep her
unwavering life with her family. By examining these moments, it reveals Irene’s
true feelings towards Clare, though it will still be unknown as to what
happened between the two as children. Psychoanalytic criticism is limited in
this sense that it can only offer a variety of explanations for Irene’s
feelings towards Clare and there can never be a concrete answer. Although the
above ideas give merit to the argument that Irene caused Clare’s death. When
Clare and Irene discuss the act of “passing” there is a sense of jealousy that
Irene has for Clare and her material and social gains. 

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