African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.
DUE IN-CLASS on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2010
No late essays or make-ups will be allowed, per the syllabus.
Write an essay of between 450-500 words in answer to ONE of the following questions. Please follow standard essay-writing principles—strong thesis statement, thoughtful, well-reasoned, organized, and fully-developed argument, supporting details, and proper grammar. This essay must be TYPED and DOUBLE-SPACED, per MLA format. Cite specifically to the source, using standard MLA-style documentation.
1) In her introduction to Nella Larsen’s Passing, critic Thadious M. Davis writes that “…Larsen represents passing as a practical, emancipatory option, a means by which people of African descent could permeate what W.E.B. DuBois termed ‘the veil of color caste.’”
Question: How is this idea of “freedom” exemplified in the novel?
2) Critic Deborah E. McDowell writes: “In Passing, understanding that Irene Redfield, from whose perspective much of the novel is told, is an unreliable narrator, is key to understanding the novel. Equally important is the function of Clare and Irene as doubles, a strategy that undermines Irene’s authority as the center of racial consciousness, and uncovers the issues of sexuality and class that an exclusive focus on race conceals.”
Question: The metaphor of “passing” accrues several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other?
3) “[Irene] was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race: The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race. Or, it might be all three.”
Question: Clare’s death at the end of Passing remains mysterious—was she killed, did she jump, or did she accidentally fall to her death? Where do you locate Irene in the outcome of the novel? Make a case for your theory after reading the above quote.