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Old 02-28-2018, 04:42 AM   #136
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There is always the possibility of Irene feeling guilty because she had earlier thought that if Clare died it would solve all her problems, so guilt for its happening because she had wished it, not because she did it.
That crossed my mind too. But I still think Irene pushed her
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Old 02-28-2018, 07:26 AM   #137
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Yes, I do too, orlok.
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Old 02-28-2018, 10:29 AM   #138
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"morally responsible" I definitely don't want you on my jury. Irene may have physically caused it, but if the reaction to her approach was not planned nor intended then Irene is not responsible for it. It is an accident*.

* Well, personally I'd blame any person that would design and build a building with a window on the 6th floor that you can just fall out of like that.
Of course she'd be morally responsible. However, the extent of legal responsibility is arguable. I believe Irene intended to push her, and that push resulted in death. Same situation as if Irene had pushed her and Clare had hit her head on something and died. The intent to kill wasn't there; the intent to push was.

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When asking about what the different endings mean to the story, I think we need only look at two:

* Murder - Irene pushed Clare

* Ambiguous/obscure cause of death.

The first is the only solution that is clearly hinted at; the author wanted us to see this one. Did she think we might miss it otherwise, or is she wanting us to believe this happened, or is she making the hints so obvious because she wants us to question this? Obviously we all have our own ideas.
If you want to go from three to two categories, the dichotomy should be whether Clare chose to die (suicide), or whether she didn't (murder or accident). I think there's an enormous difference; suicide offers us a myriad of possible interpretations about Clare's character. Murder or accident tell us nothing about Clare. (Murder tells us about Irene.)

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For me, an impulse murder is the start-of-a-story sort of thing (how to cope with the consequences). An impulse murder at the end of the story only says that people will lash out when they feel cornered, which is nothing new nor particularly interesting. I don't find it satisfying, and if this was intended then I question why it was not plainly stated. (There seems no reason to make it less than perfectly clear, and there seems no reason to suggest that Irene isn't going to be accused/arrested for the murder, because the accusation - at least - would have made this possibility more credible.)
It's an impulse murder but it grows out of the story. You have two women who grew up together, took different paths, reunited; they're jealous of each other's lives, tensions grow, and only one survives.

What's unimportant to this story is what then happens to Irene. As the story stands, she's become a murderer, and whether she's caught and punished is irrelevant--this is not a mystery or a police/legal procedural.

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There is always the possibility of Irene feeling guilty because she had earlier thought that if Clare died it would solve all her problems, so guilt for its happening because she had wished it, not because she did it.
Are there any other instances of Irene feeling guilt? My view of Irene has hardened, so perhaps I've overlooked them. My recollection is that Irene convinces herself her actions are always for the best and doesn't worry overmuch about their effects on others. She sure doesn't feel guilty about making her husband miserable. If she doesn't feel guilty about things she's done, would she feel guilty about something she didn't do, only wished for?
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Old 02-28-2018, 11:28 AM   #139
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She sure doesn't feel guilty about making her husband miserable. If she doesn't feel guilty about things she's done, would she feel guilty about something she didn't do, only wished for?
I'm not quite ready to condemn Irene for making Brian miserable, although that is obviously what Larsen intends. I said upthread that it's Irene's life, too, and she doesn't want to emigrate to Brazil and I think that's reasonable. She may also honestly believe that staying in New York is better for their sons and that seems reasonable, also.

Without knowing more of the backstory of Brian's and Irene's relationship, when and why and how positions hardened, it's impossible to know who's responsible and to what extent for their issues. It seems as if the game must have changed materially since they married. And yes, Brian is staying put, but there seems to be a sizable dollop of passive aggression there. Has there been any attempt on either part to find some common ground? And what is the root cause of the sexless marriage? Did one or the other instigate it or is it something they fell into with their increasing resentment toward the other?

I'm not saying Irene is the least bit selfless as she clearly isn't, but it seems as if Brian wants what he wants, too. Perhaps Irene wouldn't be so fearful and prone to strike out if she didn't feel so insecure.
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Old 02-28-2018, 07:29 PM   #140
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Of course she'd be morally responsible. However, the extent of legal responsibility is arguable. I believe Irene intended to push her, and that push resulted in death. Same situation as if Irene had pushed her and Clare had hit her head on something and died. The intent to kill wasn't there; the intent to push was.
My goodness. So if I harbour uncharitable thoughts about someone then that makes me morally responsible for the bad things that happen to them? Voodoo.

(Don't forget that it is your interpretation that there was an intent to push, not mine. I just see Irene rushing to Clare and placing her hand on Clare's arm. I think Clare's backward step is unrelated to Irene's intentions.)

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[...] It's an impulse murder but it grows out of the story. You have two women who grew up together, took different paths, reunited; they're jealous of each other's lives, tensions grow, and only one survives.

What's unimportant to this story is what then happens to Irene. As the story stands, she's become a murderer, and whether she's caught and punished is irrelevant--this is not a mystery or a police/legal procedural.
I agree that what actually happens to Irene is unimportant, but an accusation would have made what you propose (that Irene pushed Clare) more credible. The idea that Irene is able to push Clare out the window, but have no one notice anything even though they are watching them, seems quite incredible. Make that credible (have someone accuse her) and it becomes believable that it happened.
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Old 02-28-2018, 08:05 PM   #141
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My goodness. So if I harbour uncharitable thoughts about someone then that makes me morally responsible for the bad things that happen to them? Voodoo.

(Don't forget that it is your interpretation that there was an intent to push, not mine. I just see Irene rushing to Clare and placing her hand on Clare's arm. I think Clare's backward step is unrelated to Irene's intentions.)
Whoa. Irene did more than have "uncharitable thoughts"; she--at a minimum--made physical contact with Clare. Since that physical contact caused Clare to fall, Irene is morally responsible, regardless of her intentions.

And have you ever come up with a benign explanation for Irene's hand on Clare's arm?

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I agree that what actually happens to Irene is unimportant, but an accusation would have made what you propose (that Irene pushed Clare) more credible. The idea that Irene is able to push Clare out the window, but have no one notice anything even though they are watching them, seems quite incredible. Make that credible (have someone accuse her) and it becomes believable that it happened.
We're going in circles. No matter what happened, it was not apparent to the watchers--it's just as incredible that Clare could trip without anyone noticing, or that she could fall backward of her own accord (neat trick, that, to know she's positioned to go through the window without looking), as it is that Irene could push her without anyone knowing. It's not proof of anything.
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Old 02-28-2018, 09:46 PM   #142
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I'm not quite ready to condemn Irene for making Brian miserable, although that is obviously what Larsen intends. I said upthread that it's Irene's life, too, and she doesn't want to emigrate to Brazil and I think that's reasonable. She may also honestly believe that staying in New York is better for their sons and that seems reasonable, also.

Without knowing more of the backstory of Brian's and Irene's relationship, when and why and how positions hardened, it's impossible to know who's responsible and to what extent for their issues. It seems as if the game must have changed materially since they married. And yes, Brian is staying put, but there seems to be a sizable dollop of passive aggression there. Has there been any attempt on either part to find some common ground? And what is the root cause of the sexless marriage? Did one or the other instigate it or is it something they fell into with their increasing resentment toward the other?

I'm not saying Irene is the least bit selfless as she clearly isn't, but it seems as if Brian wants what he wants, too. Perhaps Irene wouldn't be so fearful and prone to strike out if she didn't feel so insecure.
Maybe they just grew apart as time went by: she was a bit of a "trophy" because of her pale skin (those articles were very interesting) but they never grew as a couple. She knows she really has very little hold on Brian, because all they seem to have in common is the two boys, who will grow up and go their own ways. They are mostly polite to each other, but they aren't really friends it seems. And he would know all about her manipulation and control, and would understandably resent it. Not a good basis for a relationship you would think.

It makes you wonder whether Brian stuck around after the end of the book, or if the events shocked him into leaving Irene and doing what he had wanted to do for so long. In which case, whether Irene had brought about Clare's death or not, it would all have been for nothing.
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Old 02-28-2018, 10:52 PM   #143
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[...] And have you ever come up with a benign explanation for Irene's hand on Clare's arm?
Quite a number of people have laid their hand on my arm over the years; it never occurred to me to ask if they had murderous intentions, and so far I'm still breathing. It never occurred to me to think of the action as anything but benign (if I was setting up to push someone I would not push against their arm).

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We're going in circles. [...]
Indeed. I was only hoping to convince you that I wasn't crazy (for interpreting the book as I did) ... but I never have much luck with that.

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Old 02-28-2018, 11:11 PM   #144
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Quite a number of people have laid their hand on my arm over the years; it never occurred to me to ask if they had murderous intentions, and so far I'm still breathing. It never occurred to me to think of the action as anything but benign (if I was setting up to push someone I would not push against their arm).
You're being rather disingenuous, aren't you? Do you want me to repeat the whole scene that led up to the "touch" on the arm and the aftermath, since you seem to be viewing it in isolation?

Unlike you, Clare wasn't still breathing afterward. Seems like that might be an important distinction.
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Old 03-01-2018, 03:32 AM   #145
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You're being rather disingenuous, aren't you? Do you want me to repeat the whole scene that led up to the "touch" on the arm and the aftermath, since you seem to be viewing it in isolation? [...]
I am quite serious. Somehow, I still haven't managed to convey how I felt about this coming into the scene. I seriously did not think that "laid a hand on Clare’s bare arm" was a savage act (there was no "grabbing" or "seizing" or anything else to denote anger in the touch), and I was not surprised that there wasn't, despite (or perhaps partly because of) the gentleness of "laid" in comparison to the words before it (it fit what I expected of Irene).

Nor was I surprised that moments later Clare was dead, nor that Irene held herself responsible when (under my interpretation) she was not. It seemed to me at the time that Larsen had presaged much of this (or maybe it's just that there weren't enough pages for anything else). I was not certain Clare was going to die, but it wasn't a surprise, and I didn't think Irene was responsible, in spite of her subsequent behaviour and thoughts (or partly because of it - since it left out any plain statement of fact, and this seemed to be a deliberate flag from Larsen saying "don't believe where this points!").

That was my reaction first time through. On reflection and re-read I saw that it may not read have to that way, so then I checked Wikipedia and saw: "Whether she has fallen accidentally, was pushed by either Irene or Bellew, or committed suicide, is unclear." I checked one of their reference pages and found "Clare mysteriously falls to her death through an open window". So I figured my interpretation was not totally unexpected. (If I had not found such confirmation of ambiguity I may not have had the confidence to promote my interpretation so strenuously here ... I'd have just slunk into the corner and pretended it was a temporary aberration .)
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Old 03-01-2018, 06:15 AM   #146
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I do think we're getting a bit mired down in the "did she/didn't she" ending. What I have taken away from this book is the difficult life that "white" people of colour had back then (and possibly still do) in integrating with either the white community (living a lie) or their own community (not always being accepted as one of their own). I think this informs Irene's and particularly Clare's neuroses and outlook on life, and explains many of their actions.
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Old 03-01-2018, 07:02 AM   #147
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It makes you wonder whether Brian stuck around after the end of the book, or if the events shocked him into leaving Irene and doing what he had wanted to do for so long. In which case, whether Irene had brought about Clare's death or not, it would all have been for nothing.
As a minor side point, the only grounds for divorce in New York at that time (and for a long time after) were adultery. Brian wouldn't have been able to divorce Irene in New York. There were options with her cooperation (the famous train to Reno, see George Cukor's wonderful film The Women), but without, he'd have had to abandon her, which would have meant leaving the boys also.

And did Brian really want to go to Brazil, or was it just a handy grievance, since he knew Irene would never agree?
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Old 03-01-2018, 07:07 AM   #148
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orlok, did you read the Penguin edition with all the extra notes? I'm curious because I didn't and I would have said that you have "taken away from this book" more than was actually present in it*. As far as the story of Passing is concerned the part-Negroes appear to be living very comfortable and trouble-free lives (at least the ones we meet). Only Clare shows dissatisfaction related to race, and is something we only see at one remove. If it wasn't for a complete #$#$% of a husband, and the whole standing too close to open windows thing, Clare could easily (it seems) have satisfied her desire for more contact with other Negroes.

* This isn't any sort of criticism. There is nothing wrong or even unusual about taking away more than was put in, it is often the case that a book inspires further thought or reading beyond what it directly contains.
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Old 03-01-2018, 07:18 AM   #149
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[...] And did Brian really want to go to Brazil, or was it just a handy grievance, since he knew Irene would never agree?
I wasn't certain that Brazil was entirely real - we never hear Brian speak of it in this book. It struck me that it may have been something he had spoken of a long time ago, or maybe he still speaks of it as some sort of long running joke, but that Irene has clung to as something to worry at.

I come back to my impression of similarities between Brian and Mr Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice). Both are men that are impressed with their own cleverness; both are men content to humour their wives rather than deal with them on a serious level; and both are men not entirely satisfied with their lot but too comfortable to ever try and do anything about it.
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Old 03-01-2018, 08:46 AM   #150
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I'm not quite ready to condemn Irene for making Brian miserable, although that is obviously what Larsen intends.
<snip>

This is where I keep going back to my notes about how gender and the inter-personal relationships between women (especially women fighting over men) seemed almost a bigger them to me than race.

I also have a hypersensitivity to media that pits women against each other of late. I have started and dropped 3 TV shows on netflix in the last month because the thrust of the plot is women fighting with one another when they should just be banding together against the problem/conflict.
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