Passing (v): the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own, which may includeracial identity, ethnicity, caste, social class, sexual orientation, gender,religion, age and/or disability status. According to howlingpixel.com “Passingmay result in privileges, rewards, or an increase in social acceptance, or be usedto cope with difference anxiety. Thus, passing may serve as a form of self-preservation or self-protection in instances where expressingone’s true or authentic identity may be dangerous. Passing may requireacceptance into a community and can also lead to temporary or permanent leavefrom another community to which an individual previously belonged. Thus,passing can result in separation from one’s original self, family, friends orprevious living experiences.
While successful passing may contribute toeconomic security, safety, and avoidance of stigma, it may take an emotional toll as a result of denialof the authentic self and may lead to depression or self-loathing”. NellaLarsen’s novel Passing concentrates on a theme of psychoanalytical circumstances,and how this particular act will serve as a full representation of who Clareand Irene truly are. Fromthe very beginning it is known that Clare’smotive for passing is so that she can live a luxurious life with her whitehusband who is extremely racist. Whereas Irene is trying to pass when she goesout in society, her husband Brian is fully aware and is a black doctor. Ireneand Clare’s childhoods and pasts are vague which allows there to be room forpsychoanalysis, particularly with the character Irene and her feelings towardsClare. Through psychoanalytical criticism that occurs in Larsen’s novel Passingbuild tension between Irene and Clare. WhenIrene and Clare discuss what it means to pass as a white woman in society. For Irene,she only tries to pass when it comes to social outings, whereas Clare’s wholelifestyle rests on the secret that she passes as a white woman.
Before leavingClare at the Drayton Irene remarks that “She wished to find out about thishazardous business of “passing,” this breaking away from all that was familiarand friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange,perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly” (Larsen 15). Although Ireneunderstands what passing entails, her situation differs greatly from Clare’sbecause of what Clare stands to lose if her racist husband were to do if hefound out. Through their conversation of how Clare has eluded her past from herhusband in order to pass, it can be inferred that Clare’s rough past was hermotivation to live a better life, which in this case meant a white woman’slife. After the Drayton meeting Irene tries to distance herself from Clare,which fails due to the persuasiveness Clare has over Irene. This idea ofdistancing herself from Clare could be Irene’s subconscious coming through toprotect her from whatever danger Clare could put Irene in. Although as Clare’spresent becomes more regular in Irene’s life, the tension builds andspeculations that Clare is having an affair with Brian force Irene to considerwhat would happen if Clare replaced Irene. When Irene runs into Jack Bellewwhile out with her black friend Felise and exposes Clare’s secret, it exposesIrene’s deep desire to remove Clare from her life so that she can keep herstable life with Brian. Clare’s secret was meant to stay hidden in order toprotect her status, though now by chance Irene reveals her secret.
From apsychoanalytic perspective, this is exactly what Irene wanted and as Larsendescribes, “Irene was conscious of a feeling of relieved thankfulness at thethought that she was probably rid of Clare, and without having lifted a fingeror uttered one word” (80). Though at this point Irene is considering thepossible outcomes that could occur between Jack and Clare, would he divorceher? Her inner narration demonstrates that she would clearly do anything tokeep her life, which asks the question would she ultimately kill Clare to keepher life? Ultimately with a psychoanalytic criticism of themystifying moments in Larsen’s novel Passing, it gives cause for Irene to killClare as either an act of revenge for something that happened between the twoduring their childhood, or as a means for Irene to keep her unwavering lifewith her family. By examining these moments, it reveals Irene’s true feelingstowards Clare, though it will still be unknown as to what happened between thetwo as children. Psychoanalytic criticism is limited in this sense that it canonly offer a variety of explanations for Irene’s feelings towards Clare andthere can never be a concrete answer.
Although the above ideas give merit tothe argument that Irene caused Clare’s death. When Clare and Irene discuss theact of “passing” there is a sense of jealousy that Irene has for Clare and hermaterial and social gains. Nella Larsen’s novel presents us with agood view of women’s issues of the early 20th century.
We see in the twocharacters seemingly different interpretations of what race, sexuality, andclass can and should be used for. For Clare, passing takes her into a whole newworld of advantages that she would not have had if she had remained a part ofthe African-American community. She gains social status and can be seen as anobject of sexual desire for many people, not only the black community. Ireneleads herself to think that passing is unnecessary, and that she can live atotally happy life remaining who she is.
What she fails to realize is that sheis jealous of Clare s status and sometimes passes herself subconsciously.Larsen presents to us the main point of the book that the root of the love,hate, desire, and rejection that Irene holds for Clare is a result of socialstanding, not only passing and sexuality.