Race In The 1920's Essay

1647 words - 7 pages

Race in the 1920's Kyle Pappalardo AMH 2020 2/24/02 The most important point that Nella Larsen's Passing illustrates about race in the 1920's is, that race at this time in history is by far still the greatest factor dealt with by society in America. The fact that black people would hide their own identity in an attempt to "pass" as white to get ahead is an ideal representation of race at this point in history. Plessy v. Ferguson was supposed to have made blacks separate but equal, yet this book shows first hand, through the lives of the three main characters, that this is entirely not so. Equality could only be realized by blacks in one way, by pretending to be what they were not. Some fooled society into thinking they deserved equal treatment. They became white. Only one character in the story is brave enough to actually become white, and live her life day in and day out as if she were. Clare Kendry becomes in all actuality, white, and she does so because she will not be able to live the quality of life she desires as a black woman. Clare abandons her race and family in order to pursue a life of wealth and ease. The only problem is that now Clare also pursues a life of lies and deceit. She uses her good looks to marry a rich white banker, and keeps all knowledge of her black heritage from him, for he is extremely racist and hates blacks. She even produces a white child, and mingles only with whites. Clare's case of passing seems extreme, for it would take a certain type of person to go through with all that is needed to live a constant lie. Yet Clare is the perfect type. She is extremely selfish, at one point mentioning that she dislikes having a daughter, because Clare will have to leave the country to go visit her in a French boarding school, causing her to give up her life of parties and fun for a brief time. Clare is also willing to swallow her pride in order to keep her high social status, an excellent example of this comes about when Clare is being visited by her two of her old friends Gertrude, and Irene. Clare's husband Jack, in the presence of these three black women unknowingly remarks that he hates niggers. Clare puts up with her husbands contempt for her own race daily, even enduring the nickname Nig, for he jokes that she looks dark. Clare Kendry is a devious user who always finds a way to get what she wants, at the end of the story she admits this and states, "Why, to get the things I want badly enough, I'd do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away, I'm not safe." She understands race as something that can be manipulated to help her. Just as Clare manages to exploit Irene for her own personal entertainment purposes, she also employs the white race as a system to help her, and neither can last forever. Just as Clare wears out Irene's welcome, her lies catch up to her when her Husband Jack discovers her true racial identity. Irene Redfield is a light skinned black woman that has no trouble...

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