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Rock Street, San Francisco

Larsen introduces
two ethnically African American women searching for social integration based on
their outward appearance. Irene and Clare are two “very” light skinned women,
who are light enough to pass as Caucasian during this time of social divide. The
term “Passing” is an internal identity work, socially motivated, concerned with
the representation of ones appearance. Clare Kendry fully adopted “passing” as
a foundation of her personal and social life. She conforms her fashion,
behavior and etiquette to that of a socially glorified “white” woman during the
early 20th century. At the same time, she attempts to expunge any
traces of her African- American heritage. Her friend Irene identifies as a
“black” women. However, She lives a superficial life within the
African-American community and “passes” as white when it benefits her. Despite
their social differences, both women would like to live as both black and white
to achieve the integrated life. Irene embraces normal white standards as an
African-American, while Clare uses Irene to reconnect the black community. However,
the author highlights that a person can only have one race.


Irene desires
social integration to break free from the restrictions of society’s racial
hierarchy. In an ideal world Irene would identify as a black women, but live a
“white” lifestyle. Like Claire, Irene is light enough to “pass” full time as a
white woman, but spot picks “passing” when it benefits her. The Drayton hotel is
an upper-class “whites only” establishment. However during a humid summer day, Irene
decided to “pass” as white so she could get out of the heat to enjoy a drink.
Irene comments about herself that “whites” never pick up on her, being
African-American. Except when Claire is staring at her, some internal fear is unearthed
“they always took her for an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, or a gipsy. Never,
when she was alone, had they even remotely seemed to suspect that she was a
Negro. No, the woman sitting there staring at her couldn’t possibly know…But
she looked, boldly this time, back into the eyes still frankly intent upon her”
(Larsen 11).  According to Thompson, Clare’s
stare brings Irene’s insecurities to the surface about being exposed, when she
decides to “pass”. Irene, speaking to herself, says that no one has ever picked
up on the fact she was black when alone. As her nerves start to tense, she
gathers control of herself by giving herself a mini pep talk. However, Clare’s
continuous stare (dissecting of Irene) makes Irene start to question her
attempt to “pass”. Moreover, Irene fears that the women staring at her, Clare,
could expose her although “whites” have never suspected anything before. Also,
it never occurs to Irene that the women staring her down, is so interested in
her because she could possible be “passing”. This scene highlights the issue
that society is racial divided and more often than not determined based on the
color of your skin. Even though, skin color is just a mirage to whom one really
is. Thus, when Irene is “passing” the fear of being exposed represent the failure
to lead the “double” life.

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out time Clare developed a strong desire to reinsert herself in the
African-American community. As a bi-racial women, black is black and father is
white, she has adopted a fully white lifestyle to reap the rewards of white

However, the presence of “blacks”
give her some type of inner euphoria, she seems to not be able to experience
around white people. The black community brings her a comfort or at home
feeling that the white community hasn’t been able to provide for her. However,
Claire chose a path at a younger age to identity with the white community. She
now can’t back track and return to her former race after her life as she knows
it, is built on the foundation of being white. Although “passing” while
associating with blacks puts her identity in danger, she is willing to take
that risk to lead a double standard life due to the isolation “passing” has
brought her. Clare has admitted through out the book about the toll being
isolated has taken on her mentally and all she wants is to be among the black
community again. Clare states “For I am lonely, so lonely…
cannot help to be with you again, as I have never longed for anything before;
you can’t know how in this pale life of mine I am all the time seeing the
bright pictures of that other that I once thought I was glad to be free of…
it’s like an ache, a pain that never ceases” (Larsen 7). Over the year as Clare
has transformed her life more towards the norms of the white community, she
looses parts of her roots. Clare has come to the point where she knows she
needs a change to improve her mental.

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