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Old 02-15-2018, 06:42 PM   #31
Catlady
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I think that my problem with assuming Clair pushed her is that Clare has been so passive about the whole thing on the outside, it's a large leap to "I'll kill her and that will solve everything" especially when she hasn't done anything else to help herself that would have been less dangerous both physically (what if Clare had caught her hand or dress?) and socially (danger of being seen doing something)? She was so concerned about her own security, status, and her kids that I don't think she would have taken that risk. It seemed like she would rather have Brian sleeping with Clare than risk her own position.
But Irene doesn't plan it, any more than she planned to smash the cup. It was a split-second of overwhelming anger--irresistible impulse, a moment of insanity. She didn't think of consequences until after the fact. Why else did she cower upstairs when everyone else ran down? Why else did she keep thinking of her hand on Clare's arm? Why else did she seem to flirt with the idea of blaming Jack and then reject it?

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An anonymous message to Mr. Bellow that pushes him to do something drastic would make more sense, but she didn't do that. From his own words, "he hates [negroes]", and the tirade he had in their hotel when Irene first met him makes is seem like he would not be rational if he found out the truth about Clare. In the party setting at the end he was bad enough, what would he have done if he found out in private and there wasn't anyone around to see what he did to Clare?

Irene seemed competent enough to fight for Brian and fend of Clare if all Mr. Bellow did was kick Clare out. Why risk going to jail and (possibly worse) the complete loss of face that she would risk by pushing Clare?
But Irene didn't want Jack to know the truth because he would have freed Clare from the marriage. I don't think there's any indication that Jack would have physically hurt or killed Clare--he didn't show any tendency to physical violence; he just blustered and spewed hate. I think Irene was perfectly justified in thinking that the result of Jack's knowing would have been to throw Clare out, nothing more. Certainly not to kill her.
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Old 02-15-2018, 06:50 PM   #32
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As a tangential issue, I didn't think Larsen's McGuffin, having Jack Bellew recognizing the black woman he bumped into on a winter street in New York as the same as the white woman he met in his wife's sitting room in summer Chicago, was entirely persuasive.
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Old 02-15-2018, 06:54 PM   #33
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But Irene didn't want Jack to know the truth because he would have freed Clare from the marriage. I don't think there's any indication that Jack would have physically hurt or killed Clare--he didn't show any tendency to physical violence; he just blustered and spewed hate. I think Irene was perfectly justified in thinking that the result of Jack's knowing would have been to throw Clare out, nothing more. Certainly not to kill her.
I don't necessarily disagree (playing a bit of the devil's advocate here) but if he got an anonymous message saying "she's been playing with you, everyone else knows blah blah blah", I'm not convinced he would have remained verbal. Edit: Especially after the laughing in the introduction scene - if he had been informed of why Irene was laughing so hard it could have been bad. Of course, that may have removed some anonymity.

Mostly, I am saying I can see it both ways. She could have been impulsive and just done it not thought about it. But, it is a huge step from dropping a cup to pushing someone out a window. Especially murder in front of a crowd. If she hadn't died, I bet she would have had second thoughts about "if only I had pushed", but actually doing it?

Last edited by Dazrin; 02-15-2018 at 07:40 PM.
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Old 02-15-2018, 07:11 PM   #34
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From that final scene:
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What happened next, Irene Redfield never afterwards allowed herself to remember. Never clearly.
You can't get much more ambiguous than that. Yes, it's apparent that the reader is supposed to think that Irene might have pushed Clare, but we know Irene to be passive and unreliable (she's the only character in this story that we actually know well). Can we believe she has finally been driven to actually taking action? Or does it mean that she's not allowing herself to remember her own passivity (not pushing, not saving). Or maybe - and this seems likely to me - it was merely the action of Irene arriving and laying a hand on Clare that caused Clare to step back. Thus Irene can imagine herself to have been responsible, and so not allow herself to remember.

Throw into the mix the practicality of it. I see that last tableau to be three people in very close proximity: Clare, Irene and Jack Bellew. Could one of them push Clare without it being obvious? That seems very unlikely to me. Had Jack done it, Irene should have no qualms about accusing him. Had Irene done it, I imagine Jack would have welcomed the chance to have his revenge on her (for killing his wife, who he shows affection for even in this final scene; and for being part of deceiving Jack). No, I just don't see how it is practical for one of them to have pushed Clare without it being obvious.

If this book was all about race the ending would have been Jack pushing Clare, but I think most of us see that as the least likely solution. If Irene pushed Clare then ending the book in this manner becomes a cop-out, this is Irene's story and how can we stop right when she's been driven out of her passivity? But, as an accident, it gives the author a convenient place to close the narrative, having said what she came to say.
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Old 02-15-2018, 07:17 PM   #35
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As a tangential issue, I didn't think Larsen's McGuffin, having Jack Bellew recognizing the black woman he bumped into on a winter street in New York as the same as the white woman he met in his wife's sitting room in summer Chicago, was entirely persuasive.
I agree. The man she had painted earlier would, it seems to me, have been in a great hurry to disengage himself from the situation, and very unlikely to look closely and either of the women.
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Old 02-15-2018, 07:19 PM   #36
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I think this (post before last) sounds right. Irene felt guilt about what happened, not because she pushed Clare, but because she didn't at least try to save her, with the added guilt of having wanted her out of the way. A kind of survivor guilt.
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Old 02-15-2018, 07:24 PM   #37
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Or maybe - and this seems likely to me - it was merely the action of Irene arriving and laying a hand on Clare that caused Clare to step back. Thus Irene can imagine herself to have been responsible, and so not allow herself to remember.
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I think this (post before last) sounds right. Irene felt guilt about what happened, not because she pushed Clare, but because she didn't at least try to save her, with the added guilt of having wanted her out of the way. A kind of survivor guilt.
I think these scenarios make the most sense. Maybe she was part of the reason Clare fell but it was inadvertent, not a direct action, that caused her death. That matches the Irene that we were shown for the rest of the book.
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Old 02-15-2018, 07:35 PM   #38
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[...]
1.) This is ALL about race. The title alone tells us. And race in a way that I doubt anyone outside of the US can directly understand, and frankly, even those of us who are (or were, in my case) Americans but are northern WASPs, have only the most limited understanding of. "Passing for white" made you a pariah to both whites (if discovered) and blacks, leaving you isolated and alone. [...]
If the intention of the book was to tell us about the hardships of being part-Negro and passing for white and being a pariah on both sides, then it fails quite dismally. In part 1 chapter 2 we see three part-Negro women all able to pass as white and all seem to have reasonably good lives. They seem to have reasonably good marriages - their husbands are not abusive or dismissive of them, albeit that in Clare's case that might only be because he doesn't know the truth.

Clare reveals some dissatisfaction with her life, related to race, after that first meeting, but we see that only in the distance. It is Irene that the story concentrates on and while she is revealed as unhappy, it appears to be mostly due to some internal/personal dissatisfaction that (as far as we are told) has nothing to do with race or the hardships this might have imposed.

For all that the book is titled Passing, when the final confrontation happens the tragedy is painted not as so much a consequence of Clare's passing as white, but as a consequence of Irene's belief that Clare is having an affair with Brian. (We are led to believe that Irene could have averted the confrontation had she warned Clare about what Jack may have guessed.) The abrupt nature of the conclusion only serves to focus the book as being about the interpersonal relationships rather than wider racial issues.
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Old 02-15-2018, 08:21 PM   #39
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As a tangential issue, I didn't think Larsen's McGuffin, having Jack Bellew recognizing the black woman he bumped into on a winter street in New York as the same as the white woman he met in his wife's sitting room in summer Chicago, was entirely persuasive.
I agree. It's not convincing that Jack suddenly thinks Irene is black simply because she's walking next to a black woman. I also wonder if Jack would even recognize Irene after such a long time, and in another context, after the brief summer meeting.
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Old 02-15-2018, 08:35 PM   #40
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I think it would have been obvious if, in a crowded room, Clare had been pushed. I agree with those who think that Clare stepped back and fell when Irene placed her hand on Clare's arm.
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Old 02-15-2018, 10:49 PM   #41
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In the voting thread, Bookworm_Girl put up this link Two Classic American Novels About the Madness and Beauty of Race.

Which intrigued me enough that I read Black No More by George Schuyler. It's the only Schuyler book I've read, but my immediate impression reflected what was said in that article, that here was a man that didn't like people very much. And that put me in mind of the author that Irene talks about and meets in Passing (Hugh Wentworth "despised everything and everybody").

While quite a different stories and styles, the two books do have certain similarities:

They both handle the race issue in what seems - to me as an outsider - in unusual and unexpected ways.

They both read very simplistically. Intentionally or not, they both lack narrative flair, at times coming across as almost childish, as if the work of an inexperienced writer.


The linked article describes the books as "Two influential, if woefully under-read, American classics". I think the "under-read" aspect may well be the result of seeming immaturity in the writing. I would find it hard to recommend either of these book to others to read; they're interesting but they're not that well written.

Do you think that assessment (as it relates to Passing) is too harsh?
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Old 02-15-2018, 11:42 PM   #42
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So, did Irene off Clare? Or did Clare's husband send her on the express to the first floor? Or did Clare do herself in? I've got to admit that my reaction to the ending is as enigmatic as the ending itself. There's a part of me that loves the lady or the tiger ambiguity, and another part that sees it as a way to tie up a story quickly which admitted of no quick solution. I would have liked to have seen how Jack Bellow's life played it after the revelation, and I would have liked to have seen how Clare's future played out.

While the story was very good, I thought it could have been so much more.
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Old 02-16-2018, 06:12 AM   #43
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I don't understand how anyone can say it's not about race. The plot literally disappears without it. Does it cover every aspect of the mixed race experience? Of course not, it's just one rather short book, but if you tried to take out all the elements that relate to race you'd have precious little left.

Some good points about the ending but i still feel Irene pushed her. Not in a premeditated way but as a sudden impulse, an overflowing of her growing frustration and jealousy.

I must admit I pictured the scene with Jack across the room from Clare and so didn't consider him a possible 'pusher'. Looking at it again it does say he "pushed past them all into the room and strode towards Clare". However it also says that Felise put herself between Clare and Jack, and we don't see her step or pushed aside after that.

The line about her never letting herself remember might be more ambiguous if it weren't preceded by this:

Quote:
It was that smile that maddened Irene. She ran across the room, her terror tinged with ferocity, and laid a hand on Clare’s bare arm. One thought possessed her. She couldn’t have Clare Kendry cast aside by Bellew. She couldn’t have her free.
She's clearly not passive here, she runs across the room, she's only thinking that Clare must not be "free", she lays a hand on Clare so her action is directed toward her not Jack or the others. What's the only way she can act on this consuming thought? There's nothing she can say that will cause Jack to not reject her. She can't somehow declare that Clare is white after all. Even if she could she'd direct her efforts at Jack not Clare. So, to me, the only impulse that makes sense in that moment is that she wants to remove Clare completely.

That said, I have two caveats to that. First I think it's clear that Irene has an unreliable view of reality. On almost no evidence, Brian invites Clare to tea, she quickly becomes convinced they are having an affair and is desperate to stop them. Second I don't think she has fully thought through her actions described above. I think she has an emotional reaction, a half-formed thought about stopping Clare and she runs forward and grabs her arm.

So it's possible she didn't intend to push her. It's possible that that's just what she thinks happened. However at best I'd say she's culpable to a lower degree, maybe manslaughter. At absolute best it's an accident that she precipitated.
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Old 02-16-2018, 07:19 AM   #44
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I noticed that Irene makes a reference to the “Rhinelander”case. I knew nothing about this and while checking it out I came across a fascinating article from The African American Review by Rebeca Nisetich that argues that the case is one of the major influences on Passing.

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/550302

“Reading Race in Nella Larsen’s Passing and The Rhinelander Case” (pp345-361)
Rebecca Nisetich

The Rhinelander Case of 1925 is mentioned only once near the end of the novel. The millionaire, Leonard Rhinelander had married Alice Beatrice Jones against the wishes of his family as she came from a lower socioeconomic class and at first it was seen as a “Cinderella” story.

Then Leonard found out that Alice had one black grandparent. He attempted to have the marriage annulled on the grounds of “racial fraud”. His argument was that he never would have married Alice had he known that the fact of her ancestry. The trial became a sensation and Alice won on the basis that her “race was visibly apparent” and that Leonard must have known what he was doing. The basic idea of the verdict implies that racial identity is based on physically visible factors and “denies the existence of a middle ground between racial absolutes.” But Nisetich believes that the novel challenges the absolutist approach that assumes “the visibility of race and the conception of racial identity as intimately connected to one’s essential self.”(p. 345)

This focuses a problem of identity in the Twenties: that is how “ to categorise racially ambiguous individuals.” We can see the problem in Alice’s own family. One sister of Alice married a black man and the marriage certificate lists both as black. Her other sister married an Italian and their marriage certificate lists both as white. (p. 349)

Nisetich devotes five pages of her seventeen page article to the background of the case because she believes that the trial resonates throughout the themes of the novel.

Clare, like Alice, comes from a poor background and marries a wealthy white man. She refuses to accept the validity of the assumption, held by Irene, that racial identity must necessarily be determined by physical factors. Clare attempts to live free of such shackles and her tragic failure is caused by the refusal of society, her husband, and even Irene to allow her to do so.
Throughout the main sections of the article, Nisetich points out that “the Rhinelander verdict denied The complexities of identity, affiliation, and allegiance which had enabled Alice to see herself as ‘white’. (p. 350) The novel clearly “dramatises” these complexities through the ways the various characters “read” racial signifiers on to the bodies of women who are of mixed race and there is a considerable amount of excellent analysis in the article supporting this view.

Rebecca Nisetich concludes as follows:

“Together, Passing and the Rhinelander case demonstrate the irrationality of forcing people to conform to superficial and binary notions of racial identity.”

Personally, I found her arguments very telling and it is worth reading the article in its entirety. The web address I give above will only give the abstract and the first page. Since The AAR is a very reputable journal, I suspect that a full copy would be easy to obtain from a library and possibly a PDF download as well.
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Old 02-16-2018, 07:25 AM   #45
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I don't understand how anyone can say it's not about race. The plot literally disappears without it. Does it cover every aspect of the mixed race experience? Of course not, it's just one rather short book, but if you tried to take out all the elements that relate to race you'd have precious little left.[...]
The secret in the story is that Carla is passing as white, and her husband hates Negroes. But it is possible to replace that secret and keep the rest of the plot. One strange one I saw in a show the other day was that the woman was hiding the fact that she had been the childhood murderer of someone her husband knew ... or something like that (I might mixing up multiple shows). The point is that the secret is the mechanism, not the plot; just as a knife is the murder weapon not the murder mystery.

Which doesn't mean it's not about race, there are other statements about race in the book, and there is the definite impression that the author contrived this situation to say something about race, but it comes together in such an unusual way that actually saying the book is about race seems misleading. The story doesn't say much about the difficulties of passing as white (aside from worrying what colour the kids are going to be, the story makes it look easy), nor do we see concerns of being alienated from the black community (it doesn't seem to have done any harm to the three we meet in this story), but it does say several things about how race is used in personal relationships within the black community.

Quote:
Originally Posted by latepaul View Post
[...] I must admit I pictured the scene with Jack across the room from Clare and so didn't consider him a possible 'pusher'. Looking at it again it does say he "pushed past them all into the room and strode towards Clare". However it also says that Felise put herself between Clare and Jack, and we don't see her step or pushed aside after that.
The book doesn't explicitly say that Jack pushed past Felise, but it does say (immediately after the paragraph you quoted):
Quote:
Before them stood John Bellew, speechless now in his hurt and anger. Beyond them the little huddle of other people, and Brian stepping out from among them.
I read "Before them" as meaning that Bellew had kept coming. That need not be the case, but the next sentence starts "Beyond them", which seems to include Bellew in this separation of the three from the main group. So that is how I came to conclude Clare, Irene and Bellew were in a group together, away from the others, but it's not the only way to read it; even if Jack kept coming, there is nothing there that says he was close enough to push Clare, that was an assumption on my part.

However, if we accept Clare and Irene as standing separate to everyone else then the only way that other group will not see Irene push Clare will be if Irene is between Clare and the group, and has her back to the group, in which case it becomes difficult to read those paragraphs from Irene's perspective (she won't see "Brian stepping out" if her back is to the group), and that would be inconsistent with how the story has been told.
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