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In Passing by Nella Lawson, it is the characters' flaws, particularly Irene's and Clare's, that lead to the tragic end. Clare has been "passing" for a white woman for many years, with an undefined heritage and a racist husband. Her pale skin allows her to mix in circles in which she thought she would find satisfaction. However, her life is not what she wants and she is driven to seek out her old friend Irene, a well-established black woman, in an effort to satisfy yet another whim and not seemingly out of any real desire to reconnect with her roots, although she will admit that she misses her old friends. She is impetuous and has "no allegiance beyond her own immediate desire."
Irene lives a comfortable life but one which lacks emotional attachment, with her doctor husband. She is a conflicted character who subconsciously longs for excitement and watches Clare cautiously, wishing she could enjoy the same abandon as Clare but terrified of losing what she has. Despite not even loving her husband and terrified of her friend's interference in her stable life, recognizing that Clare "wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk," and is not satisfied with her own "cake," Irene has dark and inappropriate thoughts about Clare, almost to the point of obsession.
Both characters are flawed and reveal how a flawed lifestyle, one in which a person is not honest or genuine and which reflects in their life choices, culminates in actions that can have disastrous consequences. Ironically, both women are "out of place and alien" in their respective environments.
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