Clare in the “Passing” Novel by Nella Larsen

Subject: Literature
Pages: 3
Words: 596
Reading time:
3 min

The novel “Passing” by Nella Larsen revolves around the life of Clare, who assumes the life of a white lady despite being African-American. However, the story tells of a monumental cultural transformation that occurs after the first world war and serves to define the concepts of gender and race in the author’s life. Moreover, what Nella Larsen accounts for in the novel is a complicated link between African-Americans and Caucasians and, as such, arbitrates the uncomfortable dynamic between individual independence and communal responsibility. Based on the fatal threat associated with social order, “Passing” dramatizes self-invention impossibility within a community with ambiguity and nuance. The novel’s ability to reveal the need to change and unhinge oneself about betrayal, society, fear, and hypocrisy is evident in Clare’s lengths to get what she desires in life (Larsen, 2022). The messiness associated with being human is portrayed in the relationship between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, which raises the concern about the latter’s death and forms the illustration in this essay.

Irene and Clare are childhood friends, but their lives take a completely different angle when they grow up. Compared to Clare, Irene passes as an African-American lady despite her skin color is lighter than that of blacks, married to a successful doctor, Brian, and lives in New York (Larsen, 2022). Since the two are childhood friends, they are both raised in Chicago. However, since Clare’s skin is even lighter than Irene’s, she passes as white and marries John Bellew, a white man, and mostly lives in Europe with her husband. In one instance, when Clare and John visit Chicago, the truth about John’s hatred for blacks comes out openly as he declares he hates black people (Larsen, 2022). John’s words come out when he comes to their hotel suite and finds Irene, whose visit to the suite took some convincing. In their presence, Irene, Clare, and a mutual friend, Mr. Bellew, confirm his detestation, which shocks Irene.

A significant possibility exists that Clare’s going out the window was a suicide attempt. Two years after John proclaims his hatred for blacks, the Bellews relocate to New York. Despite knowing how her husband feels for the blacks, Clare resumes contact with Irene (Larsen, 2022). Clare soon discovers that Irene is planning for an all-black party and insists on attending. She knows that if John deduces she is black, he might even divorce her. However, she becomes a regular visitor at the Redfield’s home, making Irene suspect an affair between Brian and Clare. The differences in social and cultural settings between Europe and New York make Clare long to interact with her African counterparts. Coupled with the all-black charity event, she chooses to attend the party (Larsen, 2022). Eventually, John tracks Clare down at the party hosted by Irene’s friends and angrily confronts her.

Irene is not firm in insisting that Clare leaves her alone, and this indecision is the cause of her fears that Clare and Brian might be having an affair. However, she can no longer help Clare keep her secret, and with John’s arrival at the party, the threat to Irene’s life and marriage is unexpectedly removed. Despite Irene putting her hand on Clare’s arm in anger, Clare jumped after realizing how her life would be with John knowing the truth. She knew how her husband hated blacks and the potential consequence of the truth coming out, but she chose to follow through with her decision to attend the charity event (Larsen, 2022). Therefore, Clare going out the window at the end marks the consequence of her life’s decision.


Larsen, N. (2022). Passing. S.I.: Penguin Books.