• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.


20100218-1230 Larsen day 2 (Group 1)

Page history last edited by Brian Croxall 10 years, 7 months ago


           We continued in Passing, with the background story being set of how each woman is married to a man living completely opposite of their desires. Irene fights for security and status, and Brian longs to break through those walls. John hates blacks and lives comfortably as white, while Clare desires nothing more than to return to her true race. 

          The culmination of the two women’s story occurs at the Freeland’s tea party. John has discovered that Clare is indeed black, which terrifies Irene. Her greatest fear is for Clare to return to the black community and assume life as an African-American, because “anything could happen.” This threatens her security and tampers with her desire to assimilate into white culture. In the very next moment, Clare tumbles out of the window, causing her death. There is a lot of ambiguity in that moment; with ambiguous endings being a key theme of modernism. It is not known if Clare's death was an accident, murder, or suicide. There is evidence of all possibilities in the novel.  Since Irene is the narrator of the story, it is possible that her perception of the incident is biased.  

          We also discussed how Larsen's characterization of Irene could be a criticism of Dubois's "Talented Tenth." While she and her family are supposed to be leaders in the community and help build up those who are less fortunate, she spends all her time at the charity ball talking to Hugh, a member of her own social state.  She is not seen "uplifting the brother" for which the ball was intended.  Irene also does not socialize with her own servants, whom she places below her in class, while Clare does. This story deals not only with the evident issues between races, but also between social classes too.


Word Count:298




"...in spite of her searchings and feeling of frustration, she was aware that, to her, security was the most important and desired thing in life. Not for any of the others, or for all of them, would she exchange it. She wanted only to be tranquil. Only, unmolested, to be allowed to direct for their own best good the lives of her sons and her husband." (76)

  •  As stated, all Irene desires is security, both financially and socially. This desire for security is likely the origin of her suspicion that Clare and Brian are having an affair. This suspicion is what provides us with thought that Irene could be guilty of Clare's death. Both Clare and Brazil threaten to disrupt the security that Irene has maintained within her life.   Her own need for this drives her to act manipulativally in an effort to control the lives of both her husband and sons.


"Rage boiled up in her. There was a slight crash. On the floor at her feet lay the shattered cup. Dark stains dotted the bright rug...I had an inspiration. I had only to break it, and I was rid of it for ever. So simple! And I'd never thought of it before" (66-67).

  •  Irene breaks the teacup symbolizing her disgust. The cup and the action of breaking it represent the two things Irene resents most is the world, her black identity and Clare. The cup is a relic of her past. The teacup represents her background for it is an antique from the civil war era. By her account, it belonged to white people, but somehow Brian’s family came to own it. Everything valuable belongs to white people, and anything black people gain is either sloppy-seconds or stolen. The one thing that threatens her acceptance of her identity and security is Clare. When she breaks the cup, she realizes the answer to problems. Unfortunately, this foreshadows the end of Clare Kendry’s life.  Clare is what Irene wants to be, and Irene grapples with that throughout the novel.  To Irene, being white is the only true way of life. Clare was the antithesis of Irene’s dream, therefore she had to die.



"What happened next, Irene Redfield never afterwards allowed herself to remember. Never clearly" (79)

  • This quote depicts the ambiguous ending in Passing.  It's meaning could be take several different ways.  In the chance that Clare was pushed (assumingly by Irene) it could represent Irene's refusal to think about her action again in the future due to guilt or being ashamed.  If Clare weren't murdered and it were suicide or an accident, it could represent how Irene keeps herself from thinking back on the moment so she won't feel guilty about having her hand on her shoulder.  The quote perfectly displays the ambiguousness that Larsen is trying to accomplish in the end of this novel.  The reader is allowed to make their own inference on what happened, and the text works as support for almost any claim.


Key Terms

Comments (2)

Wboles said

at 2:39 pm on Feb 18, 2010

Feel absolutely free to delete this in anyway... These are just some notes and thoughts I blended with today's discussion and my notes from 310

Brian Croxall said

at 6:22 pm on Feb 23, 2010

This is your best set of notes thus far for the semester. There are some places where they can still be improved, but on the whole I'm encourage for what this presages for the remainder of the semester.

Your summary starts off a bit strangely discussing the intriguing possibility that Irene and Clare are married to the wrong persons. This *is* intriguing, but wasn't something that we discussed in class. I don't mind your speculating a bit on the notes, but you also need to create a faithful record of what we did for the benefit of those who weren't in class that day. You do touch then on the two key points that I had planned for the class: Clare's death and class. I believe that I connected the ambiguity of Clare's death to the ambiguity of race throughout the text, and that seems like an important point to have brought in. I also think it would have been important to mention the "passing" of class that Clare perpetrates and seems to unsettle Irene as much as her racial passing.

Your passages are well chosen. The explanation of the second passage appears to be more speculation, but it's interesting. I would want you to be clear, however, that her explanation of the cup's breaking to Hugh appears to be a fabrication since she has broken it at the moment that rage wells up in her as she thinks about Brian and Clare.

You don't have permission to comment on this page.