...Clare remarked, thoughtfully, "You know, 'Rene, I've often wondered why more coloured girls, girls like you and--oh, lots of others--never 'passed'over. It's such a frightfully easy thing to do. If one's the type, all that's needed is a little nerve."
Set in Chicago and New York in the 1920s, Nella Larsen's novel, Passing, is a series of collisions between two women: Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry. Clare has been 'passing' as white since she was 18; Irene, who stayed with her own race, finds the idea of 'passing' both "dangerous and abhorrent". And every time Clare resurfaces, so does Irene's fear, anger, and resentment. Irene desires safety above all else, while Clare's whole life has been about risk. Clare goes after what she wants no matter who it may hurt. Her selfishness threatens Irene's home and happiness. Yet Irene finds herself unwilling to betray Clare's secret.
(Irene) said: "It's funny about 'passing'. We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it."It's this odd tug-of-war that creates the tension between Clare and Irene. Both women married very different men and live in very different worlds, but who chose the better life? Who's right? At first glance, it would seem that Irene made the "right" choice, but life is not so black and white. Passing is more complicated than that. It's the contrast between Clare and Irene, and the final collision of their two worlds, that makes this novel so interesting and thought-provoking. Nella Larsen is an amazing writer. I'm so glad I read this classic novel; I'm just sad she only wrote one other.