The last thing Irene Redfield expected one afternoon was for her life to drastically change, but that’s exactly what happened the moment she bumped into Clare Kendry, a childhood acquaintance, one smoldering Chicago summer afternoon.
Passing is the story of two childhood acquaintances: Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry who reunite, accidentally, in Chcago. While one could simply reduce the synopsis of the story to a woman passing to be white in the 1920s, Nella Larsen does what she is so expertly able to: take a concept and reflect the dynamic layers that lie beneath the surface.
In the style of modernity, Nella gives us the psyche of Irene, a woman trying desperately to maintain the appearance of a happy life which is threatened by Clare, a woman bent on rejecting the rules and precautions of a dangerous life she has created for herself.
Passing is a timeless classic. One finds themes Nella explored to still be relevant in the 21st century. Her lucid language draws you in and leaves you mesmerized by the genius of her syntax. Through such a mastery of style and language, she is able to craft an emotional tale of women who are trapped and bound by the man-made laws of the world. You simply won’t be able to put it down.
I have always felt this affinity with Nella Larsen. She was an oddity of her time; born to a white dutch mother and a black west indian father, she navigated a world of neglect and loneliness—themes which are prevalent in this novel.
Nella Larsen’s intrinsic understanding and empathy for the complexity of femininity and its construction and relation to race, men, children, and society is why this novel deserves to be read. She was a brilliant writer and a woman who, like her characters, I believe, was searching for a way out or at least a way to compromise that which is expected of and that which is desired.
Passing is a tale of femininity, identity, loyalty all mixed up in Nella’s eloquent psychoanalytic character-driven style.
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