First published in 1929, Passing is a remarkable exploration of the shifting racial and sexual boundaries in America. Larsen, a premier writer of the Harlem Renaissance, captures the rewards and dangers faced by two negro women who pass for white in a deeply segregated world.
©2008 Hadjii (P)2008 Recorded Books, LLC
An academic who listens to novels on runs and commutes to campus.
America of the 1920s did not allow for much social mobility between races, and so the choices left to African-Americans were filled with compromises. One such compromise is having to pass as a white person, which causes a definite and permanent rift with former associates. Any contact with those former associates would be a clear sign that there is something not above board.
With all of that being said, what this novel does is set a fairly interesting story of race relations against the more everyday concerns of a wife. The problem with that, however, is that it takes a character who seems like a rational actor and turns her into a jealous woman who commits murder to protect her marriage. The problem is that this jealousy is based purely on suspicion, which undermines her further as a rational actor. Of course, the fact that the story just ends leaves too many questions and motives unanswered and unexamined. But if you are interested in questions of race and how people are motivated to move past set ideas of their race and character, then you would do well to examine this story.
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