Passing, part 1

I’m intrigued by Irene and Clare’s relationship. They were friends when they were young, and twelve years later, they meet again. What brings them together? (Fate? Destiny? A horse?) Irene seems attracted to Clare, frequently commenting on her captivating eyes and mischievous smile. When they’re talking on the roof of the hotel, Irene keeps saying she must leave, but she stays for a while longer. She can’t seem to pull herself away. She even invites Clare to spend the weekend with her in Idlewild, and then immediately regrets it (although Clare declines the invitation). She wants to get rid of Clare, but at the same time, she is inexplicably drawn to her. When they finally do part, Irene insists that “she was through with Clare Kendry” (2186) but she eventually agrees to meet her again. For Clare’s part, her attempts to meet with Irene seem almost fake in their extravagance. She says things like “The others can see you any time, while I – Why, I may never see you again! Think of that, ‘Rene! You’ll have to come. You’ll simply have to! I’ll never forgive you if you don’t!” (2185). Guilt trip. Two years later, in her letter, she is even more fawning and guilt-trippy: “…For I am lonely, so lonely…cannot help longing to be with you again, as I have never longed for anything before; and I have wanted many things in life…and it’s your fault, ‘Rene dear. At least partly. For I wouldn’t now, perhaps, have this terrible, this wild desire if I hadn’t seen you that time in Chicago…” (2172). I’m not sure what to make of her unyielding attempts to spend time with Irene. Does she really enjoy her company that much, or is she just using her for something?

I’m also intrigued by the themes of racial identity. At first, I was confused when Clare asks Irene if she has ever thought of “passing” and Irene immediately answers “No. Why should I?” (2184) with disdain. I was under the impression that Irene was passing as white, at least sometimes. Earlier, when Clare was staring at her and Irene didn’t yet recognize her, Irene was afraid that this “rude observer” knew that she was a Negro. So in this moment, she was “passing” as white so she wouldn’t be kicked out of the restaurant. As I continued to read, however, I discovered that Clare and Irene’s experiences with “passing” are very different. Essentially, Clare’s entire life consists of “passing”, since even her husband thinks she is white. This husband also happens to be a major racist. In Irene’s case, she only “passes”in certain situations, such as the situation in the restaurant. These instances of “passing” don’t alter her racial identity as much as Clare’s “passing” alters hers. In Irene’s case, “it wasn’t that she was ashamed of being a Negro, or even of having it declared. It was the idea of being ejected from any place, even in the polite and tactful way in which the Drayton would probably do it, that disturbed her” (2175). Clare, however, does seem ashamed of being a Negro, as she makes some disparaging comments about Negroes through the story (“colored people – we – are too silly about some things” (2190)). She distances herself from her Negro identity.

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