What is the theme of the novel "Passing" by Nella Larsen? Be specific.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Two of the most significant themes are identity and belonging.  Clare is a light skinned black woman who is passing for white in white society, so a large part of the novel looks at the idea of how we define ourselves as individuals and how we let others define us.  Is skin color a part of one's identity?  How?  Is it a question for all ethnic groups, or some more than others?  What is revealed about the attitudes of blacks and whites in this novel as it relates to skin color and identity.

The other important theme is that of "belonging."  Clare, because she is passing for white, has to be very careful how she lives her life, and must be constantly protecting this carefully created veneer, but that leaves her a bit outside of her roots.  She must be careful to not reveal her black background, or she will lose everything she thinks she has accomplished with her "passing" for white.  She reaches out to Irene, a childhood friend because she seeks a connection with the past and with her personal truth.

The novel also hits on themes of racism, friendship, betrayal, loyalty, feminism, and a host of others as well.

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