Passing: Nella Larson

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Amanda Kelly Professor Choonoo Lit of the Harlem Renaissance Passing Paper Although the 1920’s was the time of the Harlem Renaissance and the flourishing of African-American literature and art, it also marked a period of unease about the crossing of the “color line” or the distinction of racial boundaries between blacks and whites. Though slavery was abolished by this time and blacks were considered Americans under the constitution, they were still at a severe disadvantage and withheld many rights that were granted to whites. They were segregated, often the prime suspects for crimes and were sometimes lynched without a trial. Blacks were often seen and treated as primitive creatures and lesser beings than whites. They had to face overt racism in everyday life which is why a select few chose to “pass” into the white majority. The term “passing” in reference to the Harlem Renaissance is the act of a mixed race person, or mulatto, deciding to adopt the white portion of their race and abandon the black portion for the many privileges that go along with being white. This act of “passing” was more than just a change of appearance; it was a change of culture. Nella Larson’s Passing explores the relationship between two women, Clare and Irene, both of mixed races, who chose to embody different parts of their race. Clare crosses the race line, marries white and becomes a part of the white majority while Irene, though she passes occasionally, moves to Harlem and is actively involved in the black community. Passing goes a step beyond tragic mulatto because it also deals with jealousy and the psychological conflict of the characters. The traditional tragic mulatto typically portrays a character that passes and reveals anguish resulting from the forsaking of his or her black identity (Tate, 342). This is not the case in Nella Larson’s novel, for she creates complex
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