From room for psychoanalysis, particularly with the character Irene

From the very beginning it is known
that Clare’s motive for passing is so that
she can live a luxurious life with her white husband who is extremely racist.
Whereas Irene is trying to pass when she goes out in society, her husband Brian
is fully aware and is a black doctor. Irene and Clare’s childhoods and pasts
are vague which allows there to be room for psychoanalysis, particularly with
the character Irene and her feelings towards Clare. Through psychoanalytical
criticism that occurs in Larsen’s novel Passing build tension between Irene and
Clare. When Irene and Clare discuss
what it means to pass as a white woman in society. For Irene, she only tries to
pass when it comes to social outings, whereas Clare’s whole lifestyle rests on
the secret that she passes as a white woman. Before leaving Clare at the
Drayton Irene remarks that “She wished to find out about this hazardous
business of “passing,” this breaking away from all that was familiar and
friendly to take one’s chance in another environment, not entirely strange,
perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly” (Larsen 15). Although Irene
understands what passing entails, her situation differs greatly from Clare’s
because of what Clare stands to lose if her racist husband were to do if he
found out. Through their conversation of how Clare has eluded her past from her
husband in order to pass, it can be inferred that Clare’s rough past was her
motivation to live a better life, which in this case meant a white woman’s
life. After the Drayton meeting Irene tries to distance herself from Clare,
which fails due to the persuasiveness Clare has over Irene. This idea of
distancing herself from Clare could be Irene’s subconscious coming through to
protect her from whatever danger Clare could put Irene in. Although as Clare’s
present becomes more regular in Irene’s life, the tension builds and
speculations that Clare is having an affair with Brian force Irene to consider
what would happen if Clare replaced Irene. 
      When Irene runs into Jack Bellew
while out with her black friend Felise and exposes Clare’s secret, it exposes
Irene’s deep desire to remove Clare from her life so that she can keep her
stable life with Brian. Clare’s secret was meant to stay hidden in order to
protect her status, though now by chance Irene reveals her secret. From a
psychoanalytic perspective, this is exactly what Irene wanted and as Larsen
describes, “Irene was conscious of a feeling of relieved thankfulness at the
thought that she was probably rid of Clare, and without having lifted a finger
or uttered one word” (80). Though at this point Irene is considering the
possible outcomes that could occur between Jack and Clare, would he divorce
her? Her inner narration demonstrates that she would clearly do anything to
keep her life, which asks the question would she ultimately kill Clare to keep
her life? 

Ultimately with a psychoanalytic criticism of the
mystifying moments in Larsen’s novel Passing, it gives cause for Irene to kill
Clare as either an act of revenge for something that happened between the two
during their childhood, or as a means for Irene to keep her unwavering life
with her family. By examining these moments, it reveals Irene’s true feelings
towards Clare, though it will still be unknown as to what happened between the
two as children. Psychoanalytic criticism is limited in this sense that it can
only offer a variety of explanations for Irene’s feelings towards Clare and
there can never be a concrete answer. Although the above ideas give merit to
the argument that Irene caused Clare’s death. When Clare and Irene discuss the
act of “passing” there is a sense of jealousy that Irene has for Clare and her
material and social gains.

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According to “Nella Larsen’s
novel presents us with a good view of women’s issues of the early 20th century.
We see in the two characters seemingly different interpretations of what race,
sexuality, and class can and should be used for. For Clare, passing takes her
into a whole new world of advantages that she would not have had if she had
remained a part of the African-American community. She gains social status and
can be seen as an object of sexual desire for many people, not only the black
community. Irene leads herself to think that passing is unnecessary, and that
she can live a totally happy life remaining who she is. What she fails to
realize is that she is jealous of Clare s status and sometimes passes herself
subconsciously. Larsen presents to us the main point of the book that the root
of the love, hate, desire, and rejection that Irene holds for Clare is a result
of social standing, not only passing and sexuality”.

The theoretical approach of
Psychoanalysis reminds us that in the end, the differences between Clare and
Irene are overshadowed by their similarities revealing that their relationship
is just as significant as the issue of passing.


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