Passing – Nella Larsen

51B9E5A-kCL._AC_US436_QL65_My absolute favourite period of literature is the Modernist period. This is normally from 1890 to 1939 and includes works from those such as Virginia Woolf, E M Forster, Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield, who were pushing the boundaries and writing new and experimental literature, whether in style or subject matter.  There is something about that period which society today mirrors; the world was changing quickly due to new technology, our lives became faster and busier, and as such we felt lost and needed to find our sense of self.

Passing is a novella written in the 1920’s and is about a black woman  (Clare) who is passing herself off as white. She is even married to a white man who despises black people and is completely unaware who he is married to. The narrator of the book is Irene, Clare’s friend,  she does not approve of what Clare is doing and doesn’t want to be involved with her but somehow falls under her spell in the same way that everybody else does. The concept of the book is fascinating and I completely sided with Irene but can understand that, at the time, the benefits of ‘Passing’ included improved social acceptance, better access to education and more availability of jobs. During the Harlem Renaissance when this book is set, this practice was more common than I realised and there is another example of it in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book I absolutely loved and will review once we have covered it in class.

The ending really appealed to me and I liked Irene even more than I should have, but I got to the end and thought,  ‘I’ve read this before’, proving the ending is memorable but maybe not the rest of the book! Passing is a fable or even a warning to those willing to give up their identity and disown their heritage. It is a perfect little snapshot of my favourite literary period and I want to put some more research into this subject matter.  I really hope I can do this in the future.


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