In Larson's Passing, is Clare African- American?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Clare's racial identity is of vital importance to Larsen's novel.  In a modern setting, Clare would be defined as biracial.  She is part African- American and part White.  When her father dies, she is moved to her aunts' home, who are able to "pass her off" as White. Clare's ethnicity helps to underscore her fascination with Irene's life, one committed to helping the condition of people of color.  For Clare, such a fascination reveals her own challenges with her ancestry and identity.  The lack of clear understanding of the fundamental dynamics of race and racial identity helps to drive her into territory where she is uncertain of control and whether or not she fully comprehends the implications of race.  In this, she can be see as representative of the African- American struggle and the "tragic mulatto" condition in which the issue of race and ethnicity is not fully grasped.  In her identity being one in which there is African- American elements and Caucasian elements, Larsen is able to construct a narrative of how "passing" for White can prove to possess disastrous psychological implications.


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