preview

Motherhood In Nella Larsen's Passing

Powerful Essays
It is often said that a new definition of a woman arose in the 1920s. But is that true? While most women experienced many newfound freedoms in the 1920s, black women could not explore these freedoms as easily as white women. In the novel Passing by Nella Larsen, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry grew up in Chicago together and are now both two wives and mothers in New York City during the 1920s, but there is a big difference between them. The novel’s title refers to light-skinned black women masquerading as white women for social benefits. Irene and Clare are both light enough to “pass”, but only Clare chooses to pass everyday. Irene passes in trivial situations like getting a cab, buying movie tickets, or getting a table at a restaurant, but…show more content…
One subject they tend to talk about often is motherhood. Larsen continues her use of character foiling through the contrasting of Irene’s and Clare’s feelings about motherhood to emphasize how their contrasting situations influence their feelings. Clare does not enjoy being a mother. She believes that it is too much pressure, especially because she doesn’t want her daughter’s skin to reveal that she has a black parent. She says, “I nearly died of terror the whole nine months before Margery was born for fear she might be dark. Thank goodness, she turned out alright. But I’ll never risk it again. Never! The strain is simply too - too hellish,” (36). Larsen uses words provoking anxiety and horror to give the reader insight into Clare’s mind when she thinks about pregnancy and motherhood. She uses the words ‘died’, ‘terror’, ‘fear’, ‘dark’, ‘risk’, ‘strain’, and ‘hellish’; which are all words associated with danger or negativity. In contrast, Irene enjoys being a mother and always thinks about her children when making decisions. She feels motherhood is a strong life-long responsibility that can definitely be stressful, but is worth it in the long run. She feels such an obligation to her children that she puts their needs before hers. “Nor did she admit that all other plans, all other ways, she regarded as menaces, more or less…show more content…
She uses the foil to explore how Irene and Clare experience womanhood differently and connects it to the expectations of women in the 1920s. She mainly uses motherhood and marriage to exhibit these differences in their lives based on off race. She uses motherhood to show how Clare hates being a mother because of her fear of her husband finding out she’s black through her daughter’s skin tone. Irene appreciates being a mother even though she sacrifices her own desires for it; she understands the huge responsibility that comes with being a mother and embraces it. Marriage is used to portray Clare’s fear of her husband, and it shows Irene’s insecurity in her marriage when she suspects Clare and Brian are having an affair, yet her faith in her husband when she blames herself. Instead of internalizing her fear of her husband, Clare perseus pursues Brian. This affair relates to the open sexuality of the 1920s. Clare wasn’t getting the attention she wanted from her husband, therefore, she was determined to find it somewhere else, a revolutionary, and very 20s, attitude. Clare was intrigued by Harlem and all the parties she went to with the Redfields. She wanted to be a flapper and explore things, so she explored her boundaries with Brian. This connects to the 1920s woman through the duties that women are
Get Access