“Sliding significations: passing as a narrative and textual strategy in Nella

The book explores Larsen’s theories as well as the journey that black slaves followed to gain freedom. The text is critical for comprehending the significance of cultural and personal identities. These theories are influenced by a reference made from colonial times to contemporary times, as well as the way in which passing is actually taking on a political dimension. The scholarly article looks at the problem of racial identification in the adult population of the black people. A major issue of concern here is the childhood teachings concerning what it entails to be black. The article further scrutinizes the benefits of the interracial contact and how it affects the socioeconomic attainment.
Larsen, Nella. Passing. 1st ed., Lanham, Dancing Unicorn Books, 2016.
This is a novel whose story generally revolves around two mullatto women. Irene
Redfield and Clare Kendry are portrayed as striving to identify themselves in a
Racially split world. The major reason why Clare passed was to get married to a racist white man. Passing for Irene happens when a need arises.
Ogbu, John U. “Collective identity and the burden of “acting White” in Black history, community, and education.” The Urban Review 36.1 (2004): 1-35.
The article looks at the problems associated with the problem of acting as white besides those evident in the field of education. The meaning of cultural identity is distinguished from other related forms, and the opposition culture of the black Americans delved into. The author successfully links the problems that the black community go through to the burden of “acting white.”

 

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Passing’s Literary Analysis
In Nella’s work called Passing, a tale is narrated in a perspective that is omniscient controlled. The story’s tension emanates from the three characters used and ends in a situation marked by mystery and ambiguity. The author’s central ideas revolve around a psychological and social problem brought out through racial dilemmas that illuminate the deep personal relationship. Clare, a character in Passing of an African origin, had a hard time dealing with her racist husband. This comes out in the saying, “everything has to be paid for” (Larsen 71). The idea in this comment throughout the book is poignant in relation to passing. A critical aspect addressed in the book is the gender differential which is associated with crossing the color line. Besides, Nella reveals that the psychological and social impacts of passing are greater in a woman as compared to their male counterparts.
Passing is not a concept that can be regarded as a modern phenomenon. In the slave trade era, despite being incredibly risky, the benefits associated with color-line crossing were enhanced through perception. Escape from slavery through the attainment of freedom was something considered to be the ultimate end of the diversion from the illusionary identity (Obgu 1-35). Failure in the process of crossing would attract negative sanctions such as brutal beatings and to an extent, facing death through lynching. These types of punishment were not hidden from the public eye. As a result, it was a good deterrence measure to those slaves who might have been thinking about misbehaving. Women were escaping from the physical labor as well as the sexual enslavement that they were subjected to by their masters (Demo & Michael 364-374). Therefore, they had a relatively bigger victory in the escape. In the textual history, passing entails the questioning of the unstable and uncertain forces in the literary text which puts the reader in a position to understand racial instability. Larsen was aware that to fully comprehend the fluid instability related to race, class, and sexuality, there is the need to have a profound grasp of the history itself. The narration is, therefore, essential in understanding history and the problems associated with delinking oneself from the past to fit in a foreign context, mostly faced by the black community.
Women in the novel have a challenge concerning their allegiance to their race. This mentality is socially constructed and oppressive to women. One of the main characters in the novel called Irene said that she was “caught between two forms of allegiance that are different and at the same time similar” (Larsen 98). She would later question why it was impossible to flee herself from the race’s instinctive loyalty, “why couldn’t she get free from it” (Larsen 100). The ultimate prize for the women who failed to break from the allegiance successfully was a total abandonment of the race. Claude Jones, a character accused of passing, had since childhood been a friend to the women in Clare’s tea party. A lady in the party talked of how Jones had seized being a Christian or a Negro and had now turned to a Jews. This was something taken casually with “a regular scream” (Larsen 36). Clare went ahead to claim that she did not care about the man’s business if “he gets along better by turning” (Larsen 37). It is ironic that when these women pass, they are deemed as “deserters” while the same action by men is declared as a “scream” and no prize needed for their lack of allegiance.
Clare was the character who came out as ruthlessly pushing over the color-line. She is regarded as being daring, having and so daring (Larsen 43). She did not bother herself much about her race or the allegiance rather than her immediate desires. As a result of her life of passing, she was a better race’s “deserter” who got what she desired regardless of the cost implications. Women not only had the issue of racial identity as the most troublesome but also the women civic duties. Irene Redfield, who was relatively satisfied with her status as a black woman noted that she had to go an extra mile in order to fit in the white society and look presentable. Her membership in the Negro Welfare committee had to be balanced with other wifely and civic duties.
Irene and Clare, two long time childhood friends, were glad to be reunited in their adulthood. Although the two ladies have a similar racial void, a profound analysis reveals that they are polar opposites. Clare was not afraid about identifying herself as a black woman. On the other hand, Irene was living in a denial state and was never in terms with the reality since her childhood. In Irene’s eyes, Clare, a black woman who had been passing as a white one, could not identify with the level of pressure in her life. This is associated with the difficulties that women had to endure as they adjusted to operate within the confines of the of the white society’s ideals. It is worth noting that although Larsen’s work concentrates on other themes, racial passing was an integral part and an important subject to be underscored in the novel’s narration.
The problem with race is still an issue of concern as an unstable way in as far as self-identity is concerned. It is still a problem in the contemporary world despite the growing tolerance over the years and appreciating that any person is capable of achieving life goals despite the color of the skin (Cutter, 75). Although Clare was not concerned about the white ideals and the best ways to re-adjust and fit in the white community, she had her issues to solve. A central idea of these issues to sort out was being lost in the white society. She can, therefore, be regarded as having an inner struggle in trying to fit in the white race despite looking comfortable and untroubled on the surface. This is clearly brought out when she has to deal with her racial husband’s remarks that became a pet name for her (Larsen 71). Placed in the same context, other black women would not have taken this lightly, and this would, therefore, lead to violence or rude behavior. Clare never took her husband’s comments seriously neither did she take these remarks as being rude or disrespectful.
Although Clare had passed for white in a bid to get a better life, she seemed to have reevaluated the situation to come up with the best way of coping on the black side. She made the assumption that her fellow black society would accept her, something that was never fully realized. Her colleagues feared her white husband and would do anything to hide their intentions of protecting Clare and her child from the Whiteman. This was a move to be carried out cautiously to avoid any forms of extreme repercussions that would spiral out of their control. Her friend Irene came to the conclusion that the worries and the intentions that she had were revolving around herself. Besides, it is evident that Clare was not aware of the passing effects associated with the behavior of moving back and forth in the race. She seems not to be aware that this is an issue that is not only affecting those around her but also the ones committed to helping her.
In the “passing” period the effects of Clare’s decisions seems to mostly affect Irene. Irene was not only disturbed in the line of sanity and comfort but also her marriage. Irene failed to understand how Clare would fail to appreciate the importance of sticking the ways of the black community to enjoy the benefits that accrue. At the end of the novel, Clare had adopted the role of a “tragic mulatto” and passed on as a result of the decisions and the actions that she had taken. The end of the novel seems skeptical, and the readers are left to draw their conclusions. A closer look at the events that led to her death reveals that Irene had pushed her to death. Although being moralistic at the beginning of the novel, Irene took a different path along the way and started influencing Irene negatively. At a time when Clare’s seems to need Irene the most, she turned out to be unforgiving and failing to understand her friend anymore. She could not put up with her selfishness and the inability to embrace the reality of the black race and was pushed to the make the decision of terminating her life.
The end of the novel further sparks questions about Bellew’s whereabouts and whether Clare and Brian were in the real sense having an affair. The reader is also in a position to answer the question on whether Passing was essential in the understanding of the inter-racial relations. The cost of ignoring one’s ethnic community’s nurturing can eventually be associated with Clare’s demise. Furthermore, it can be associated to the tacit condemnation associated with the kind of life she lived under the false pretenses. Clare is, however, a unique character in the novel in the elevated circles of social life. Her eventual tragedy can be deemed as being personal, and her character was unusual in passing a message in the broad social group. Larsen successfully portrayed the two sides of every character in the identification of their real self. It is clear that there was no easy solution even to the situations that seems certain. Every individual has troubles in life which are hard to fully comprehend. In this novel’s context, the problem that is hard to grasp fully is that associated with race. It is something that all the characters were born with and impossible to change, and the best way is to learn how to live with it. It is, however, unfortunate that it blows out of proportion and control the idea of passing resulting to more trouble.

Works Cited
Cutter, Martha J. “Sliding significations: passing as a narrative and textual strategy in Nella Larsen’s fiction.” Passing and the Fictions of Identity (1996): 75-100.
Demo, David H., and Michael Hughes. “Socialization and racial identity among Black Americans.” Social Psychology Quarterly (1990): 364-374.
Larsen, Nella. Passing. 1st ed., Lanham, Dancing Unicorn Books, 2016.
Ogbu, John U. “Collective identity and the burden of “acting White” in Black history, community, and education.” The Urban Review 36.1 (2004): 1-35.

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