I’m writing about Nella Larsen’s Passing today, but I read it a couple of weeks ago. I read this book for my African American Literature as well, and I find it infinitely superior to Native Son (which I wrote about in my previous post).
The story is set in Harlem in the 1920s (enough to make me swoon already), and it focuses on two women, who were childhood friends, and their reunion several years later. Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield lead very different lives; both are African American, but Clare chooses to live as a white woman (a phenomenon called passing). Irene passes occasionally when it is convenient, but she lives mostly as a member of the African American community.
The book obviously deals with race issues, and it does that very well. But it is also covers interesting psychological ideas, gender problems, and issues of decadence in the 1920s. There’s something for everyone, but wait there’s more! (suddenly infomercial!). The book ends in a way that had our class arguing, and I’ve even been debating with myself about what I think happened. To me, the ending is perfect; the book has a clear resolution, but that resolution can be interpreted in a number of different ways, which means you can get a different result every time you read.
I will definitely read it again, and I highly recommend everybody else read it. I’m sure you noticed The Great Gatsby hanging out in the background of the picture. If you like The Great Gatsby, you will definitely enjoy this book. There are clear parallels, and I believe Larsen was poking some fun at good old F. Scott when she wrote this*. Both novels are stellar on there own, but this is one of those beautiful times where two authors give you two books that communicate incredibly well and allow you to gain more insight about both works.
I won’t lie. After writing this post, I’ve gotten pretty excited, and I want to read the book again right now.
*Passing was published in 1929. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925.