The Duality of Clare Kendry: Structuralist and Feminist Implications of Nella Larson’s Passing
Presented by: Kiera Egan
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Staci Shultz, Associate Professor of English
In Nella Larsen’s Passing, Irene, our black woman protagonist, has a chance encounter with an old childhood friend, Clare, who has decided to “pass” and live her life a white woman in order to have a more privileged life in 1920s America. Clare seems to dually embody the female literary archetypes of the maiden (Clare is childlike, the victim, exquisite) and the femme fatale (Clare is manipulative, seductive, untrustworthy). However, these two different characterizations of Clare come from the point of view of Irene, who is a patriarchal woman herself and classifies women by type, including herself as the matriarch. Thus, Clare’s portrayal as a female character is closely related to Irene’s own ideas surrounding females and the roles they play. Structuralist and feminist readings of Passing would assert Larsen paints Clare as both the maiden and the femme fatale archetype from Irene’s patriarchal point of view to subvert expectations of female characters in literature and to provide social commentary on real gender roles.
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