The ending of Larsen's novel Passing is ambiguous: did Clare kill herself or was she murdered? What purpose does this ambiguity serve?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The opinion that the reader forms of the ending is very much shaped by the ambiguity that Nella Larsen works into the whole story. The characters of Clare and Irene are not fully three-dimensional, but both have enough subtleties and contradictions to allow the reader to identify with each woman’s different point of view. We are not led, therefore, to expect a neatly tied-up ending. The first question posed in this post assumes that suicide and murder are the only two options. The ambiguity is actually greater than a simply dichotomy. Clare’s death might have been an accident.

Irene greatly values self-restraint in herself and does not likely disrupting the status quo. Her reactions to whatever occurred, both the blocked memories and lack of regret, are consistent with her personality. The paradox that Larsen sets up, however, is the Irene’s extreme concern with security could be a sufficient motivation for an abrupt change of behavior. In an instant, she could have become capable of...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 568 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team