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Passing: Psychoanalysis

Passing (v): the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own, which may include
racial identity, ethnicity, caste, social class, sexual orientation, gender,
religion, age and/or disability status. According to “Passing
may result in privileges, rewards, or an increase in social acceptance, or be used
to cope with difference anxiety. Thus, passing may serve as a form of self-preservation or self-protection in instances where expressing
one’s true or authentic identity may be dangerous. Passing may require
acceptance into a community and can also lead to temporary or permanent leave
from another community to which an individual previously belonged. Thus,
passing can result in separation from one’s original self, family, friends or
previous living experiences. While successful passing may contribute to
economic security, safety, and avoidance of stigma, it may take an emotional toll as a result of denial
of the authentic self and may lead to depression or self-loathing”. Nella
Larsen’s novel Passing concentrates on a theme of psychoanalytical circumstances,
and how this particular act will serve as a full representation of who Clare
and Irene truly are.

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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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