Nella Larsen's Passing Essay

Nella Larsen's Passing Essay

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Nella Larsen's Passing


The Harlem Renaissance was a turning point for many African Americans. A vast amount of literature was created specifically for this group during this era. It was a period when the African American "was in vogue" and "white thinkers and writers were devoting a considerable amount of attention" to them (Taylor 91, 90). For the first time, African Americans were being told that it was okay to be proud of who they were. This new consciousness and self-awareness was prominent in many works of literate, but several writers began exploring the darker side of this movement with literature that concentrated on the negative aspects of race relations in America. Nella Larsen's novel Passing concentrates on this theme with the story of Clare, a tragic mulatto who "passes" as a white person. Not only is Passing representative of the plight of the "tragic mulatto", it is also a novel that explores the complexities of human relationships.
Clare Kendry's life is a perfect example of the plight of the "tragic mulatto." This is a conventional "character who 'passes' [as a white person] and then reveals pangs of anguish resulting from forsaking his or her black identity" (Tate 142). In Passing, Clare "seems to have one overriding urge: to return to the [African American] world she left" (Davis 98). However, once she does return back to the African American community, her story leads to a tragic ending.
Clare's desire to return to her African American heritage is obvious. She tells her childhood friend Irene Redfield that "she can't know how in this pale life of mine I am all the time seeing the bright pictures of that other that I once thought I was glad to be free of…It's like an ache, a pain tha...


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...erature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1989.
Ravitz, Abe. Rev. of Passing, by Nella Larsen. Masterpieces of Women's Literature. New York: Salem Press, 1996. 393 -- 96.
Sato, Hiroko. "Under the Harlem Shadow: A Study of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen." The Harlem Renaissance Remembered. Ed. Arna Bontemps. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972. 63 -- 89.
Singh, Amritjit. The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Press, 1976.
Tate, Claudia. "Nella Larsen's Passing: A Problem of Interpretation." Black American Literature Forum 14 (1980): 142-46.
Taylor, Patricia. "Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance." The Harlem Renaissance Remembered. Ed. Bontemps, Arna. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972. 90-102.
Washington, Mary Helen. "Nella Larsen: Mystery Woman of the Harlem Renaissance." Ms. 6 Dec. 1980: 44+.


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