The penumbral spaces of Nella Larsen's Passing: Undecidable bodies, mobile identities, and the deconstruction of racial boundaries

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Abstract

Nella Larsen's 1929 novel, Passing, is a psychological drama centering around two fair-skinned women. One, Clare Kendry, passes as the White wife of a financially successful racist; the other, Irene Redfield, is a 'race woman' living in upper Manhattan during the era of the Renaissance Harlem. Clare and Irene are undecidables, neither White nor Black, fluid subjects traversing the boundaries of race - passing. Passing is an act of insinuating oneself into forbidden spaces by jettisoning former identities. It is as much a transgression of spatial boundaries as it is of racial boundaries. In the novel Clare passes by merely crossing from Black space into White space, and along the way shedding a Black identity for a White one. This paper examines the mobility of identities across racial geographies and how this movement destabilizes notions of race and of raced spaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-246
Number of pages20
JournalGender, Place and Culture
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2006

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