Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories

The Rise to Motherhood in Larsen's Passing

Throughout much of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry are portrayed as polar opposites. Though they both occupy the role of a young African-American mother living during the prosperous 1920s, they define that role in intensely different ways. Clare is a vivacious, wild woman who rejects her “people” in favor of freedom and glamour, whereas her good childhood friend Irene is more subdued and tries to act proud of her racial background for the sake of her family. Their differences ultimately manifest in their approaches to motherhood, and much of the novel revolves around the choices they make with regards to racial passing and parenting. Maternity is central to the racial passing experiences of both Irene and Clare, because Larsen is suggesting that mothers are responsible for carrying on the honor of the race that they belong to. Clare’s attitude towards her racial passing and Irene’s beliefs against it are each shaped and affected subsequently by the ways they view themselves as mothers, and it is this friction that drives the narrative towards its inevitable tragic conclusion.

The importance of the maternal figure is established early on in the novel, beginning with the free spirited Clare Kendry. Her own...

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