Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen by Passing Read Free Book Online

Book: Nella Larsen by Passing Read Free Book Online
Authors: Passing
Tags: Fiction
affirm or undermine Irene’s perceptions, leaving it to the reader/critic to reach his or her own conclusions. However, I would propose a reading that would both affirm and challenge Irene’s suspicions. Like Clare, Brian is a figure animated by a desire for a life outside the racist proscriptions of American society. His brooding discontent and innate dissatisfaction stem from his “dislike and disgust for his profession and his country.” And curiously, like John Bellew, Brian is attracted to South America. Irene has “[made] . . . strenuous efforts to repress . . . that old, queer, unhappy restlessness . . . that craving for some place strange and different . . .” that often leads to Brian’s moodiness. Arguably, what Irene suspects to be a sexual attraction between Clare and Brian reflects an affinity of desire for social and personal freedom from the confines of race in the United States. Brian’s response to American racial arrangements, like Clare’s, constitutes an option (escape) that, like passing, is available only to individuals. What identifies these characters symbolically, then, is that both seek to cross the line, Brian geographically and Clare racially. Brian’s desire to cross geographical borders (“rush off to that remote place of his heart’s desire”) functions, in effect, as the symbolic equivalent of Clare’s desire to cross racial boundaries in pursuit of wealth and status. The symbolic equivalence between expatriation and passing suggests here what Samira Kawash calls “geographies of the color line,” that is to say, the metaphorical relation between race and geography in which, as David Goldberg explains, “spatial distinctions . . . are racialized [and] racial categories [are] spatialized.” 67 In addition, Larsen’s symbolic equivalence of race and geography fractures the choices that James Weldon Johnson’s narrator collapses in his rationale for passing in
The Autobiography
of an Ex-Colored Man:
“I argued to forsake one’s race to better one’s condition was no less worthy an action than to forsake one’s country for the same purpose.” 68 Thus, Larsen’s intertextual response to Johnson figures both Clare and potentially Brian (like the ex-colored man) as “racial expatriates” who transgress the geography of the color line. In fact, Irene’s description of passing—“the breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chance in another environment”—implicates race and place in a definition that could serve equally well for “expatriation.” But, of course, as a racially marked body, Brian “couldn’t exactly pass.” (Unlike Clare, however, whose blackness is invisible, Brian’s complexion is “of an exquisitely fine texture and deep copper color.”)
    If Brian and Clare each repudiates boundaries of race and nationality, Irene, on the other hand, seeks to repress Brian’s expatriate impulse and to deny Clare’s passing preference. For Irene, expatriation, like passing, represents “a dangerous business,” that is to say, a threat to her own desires for “safety,” “security,” and “permanence” in her own life. Not only does Irene avow her ties to race, but also her ties to nation: “. . . she would not go to Brazil. She belonged in this land of rising towers. She was an American. She grew from this soil, and she would not be uprooted.” Here Larsen affirms for her protagonist a complex sense of self-definition predicated not only upon racial identity, but an affirmation of national identity and identification.
    Although Larsen revises the conventional treatment of the tragic mulatta, the death of Clare in the “Finale” would seem to replicate the formulaic conclusion of the nineteenth-century passing narrative. Typically, the earlier novel of

Similar Books

Diamond in the Buff

Susan Dunlap

The Shining Sea

George C. Daughan

Joe Ledger

Jonathan Maberry

The Last Temple

Sigmund Brouwer, Hank Hanegraaff

Blood Ransom

Lisa Harris

His Need, Her Desire

Malia Mallory