Passing Metaphors and Similes

Clare's Catlike Nature (Simile)

As she reflects on Clare Kendry's past, Irene Redfield arrives at a comparison that appears to aptly sum up Clare's temperament: "Catlike. Certainly that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her" (173). In the course of her ruminations, Irene lists the catlike traits that Clare has manifested over time, from Clare's use of calculation to Clare's capacity for ferocity. Yet because this reference to Clare's "catlike" traits occurs so early in Passing, readers are challenged to see whether Clare will in fact align with Irene's description as the narrative progresses, or whether Clare will reveal other aspects that are less predictable and not especially "catlike."

Irene's Telephone (Simile)

During one of Clare's early attempts to reach Irene by phone, Irene provides a revealing image for Clare's insistent, maddening efforts: "The telephone. For hours it had rung like something possessed. Since nine o'clock [Irene] had been hearing its insistent jangle" (193). By suggesting that phone is like something "possessed" by a demon, Larsen indicates the extent of Irene's aversion to Clare. This description, though, is also an important instance of foreshadowing, since Clare will in fact later captivate and "possess" the entire Redfield household in a disruptive manner.

Brian's Work (Simile)

When discussing his work with Irene, Brian explains his medical duties by offering an especially unpleasant simile: "Uplifting the brother's no easy job. I'm as busy as a cat with fleas, myself . . . Lord! how I hate sick people, and their stupid, meddling families, and smelly, dirty rooms, and climbing filthy steps in dark hallways" (217). Brian clearly sees his patients as a pestilence; his reference to "Uplifting the brother" is meant to be taken as an instance of supreme sarcasm. If anything, he wishes to be rid of his "fleas"--to banish them completely and be done with a persistent problem, not to actually solve the problem in a way that benefits anyone but himself.

Brian and Irene's Estrangement (Simile/Metaphor)

During the Christmas season, Irene notices that she and Brian have grown apart, and explains their changed, uncomfortable situation by using a complex comparison: "It was as if he had stepped out beyond her reach into some section, strange and walled, where she could not get at him" (247). The reference to Brian's situation as "walled" is especially significant. Throughout Passing, Brian has used devices such as sarcasm and irony to wall off his true, even more negative emotions. Now, he is even more supremely "walled off" from Irene and may in fact be living a secret life with Clare.

Irene's Second Meeting with Bellew (Metaphor)

The second meeting between Irene and Bellew is a moment of shocked discomfort, an emotion that Irene registers almost immediately: "Instinctively, at the first glance of recognition, her face had become a mask. Now she turned on him a totally uncomprehending look, a bit questioning" (259). Although the image of "a mask" indeed captures the drama of the situation, this image also hearkens back to Irene's earlier methods of dealing with Bellew. In their first meeting, Irene confronted Bellew under the "mask" of a white woman at ease with his bigoted opinions of African Americans; now, she has put on a new mask, one that actually reveals her emotions.