7 Insightful Quotes from Passing by Nella Larsen

passing by nella larsen

Nella Larsen‘s novel Passing  (1929) focuses on two middle-class black women who reunite after a long break since their childhood friendship. Claire, one of the main characters, has light skin and  passes as white to maintain her marriage. This constructs the theme of the novel.

“It’s funny about ‘passing.’ We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. Why shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.”

“Lies, injustice, and hypocrisy are a part of every ordinary community. Most people achieve a sort of protective immunity, a kind of callousness, toward them. If they didn’t, they couldn’t endure.

“She isn’t stupid. She’s intelligent enough in a purely feminine way. Eighteenth-century France would have been a marvelous setting for her, or the old South if she hadn’t made the mistake of being born a Negro.”

Nella Larsen

Learn more about Nella Larsen

“The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.

“She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race.”

“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 chances in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.”

“I’ve often wondered why more colored girls … never ‘passed’ over. It’s such a frightfully easy thing to do. If one’s the type, all that’s needed is a little nerve.”

Nella Larsen, photo by Carl Van Vechten
Nella Larsen, photo by Carl Van Vechten

More about the author: In Search of Nella Larsen by George Hutchinson

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