Passing by Nella Larsen and Double Consciousness in USA

Document Type:Thesis

Subject Area:English

Document 1

As a result of the absence of slavery, the social construction of race was drastically changing (Shaw 10). The case of double consciousness is well analyzed by W. E. B Du Bois, a renowned African American scholar. He provides the perception identity of African Americans in the presence of conflicting roles as American people and as a black race. Du Bois describes double consciousness as “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of other. ” In this aspect, double consciousness is how black people think white people perceive them. However, Du Bois’ theory is applicable in many other aspects outside race. This theory plays a crucial role in the novel Passing by Nella Larsen through the primary character’s perception of herself and others. Nella’s novel provides an insight on how assimilation, redefinition was taking place through the concept of double consciousness. In due process of assimilation, African Americans were denied the chance of becoming full Americans. Du Bois and other scholars have attested that African Americans were forced into a double identity of an African and an American by labelling them African Americans. The process of assimilation enabled the whites to become Americans while splitting the racial identity of Africans into two. Slavery was the initial step that stripped away blackstheir Africanidentity by driving them away from their ancestral continent Africa to a strange land. In due process, the white masters denied them from upholding their cultural history. In this case, African Americans lost their bond with their cultural traditions, beliefs and history.

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They were forced to live under the American culture or die. This forced assimilation is the primary cause of double identity described by Du Bois. Africans were therefore prompted to evaluate themselves on the standards of the whites rather than on their own standards. They were supposed to view themselves in the eyes of a dominant race in order to conform to the whites’expectations (Shaw 23). However, her actions resemble those of white racial standards do little to help her understand her husband. On the other hand, Brian is an epitome of stereotypical black man. Brian is physically attractive and Irene asserts that he would not be that way if it were not his skin tone. Brian is masculine and finds no problem with his son having little knowledge on sex gotten from his fellow school peers (Larsen 58).

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He also desires to raise his children in an African-oriented society by leaving America for Brazil. She even thinks as a black woman and therefore not concerned of being escorted out of any place based on her race. Another essential aspect is the perception of Irene concerning the racial identity of Clare Kendry. Her views concerning Clare are ill-defined and changesthroughout the novel. Irene finds it hard to assign Clare racial identity despite having grown together in a black community. This bond makes her view Clare as black however Irene assumes Clare is a white woman (without knowledge that it is Clare) on the roof of Drayton. She asserts that “She [Irene] had to Clare Kendry a duty. She was bound to her by those very ties of race, which, for all her repudiation of them, Clare had been unable to completely sever” (Larsen 52).

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Irene’s paradox gives an insight on exploring the true definition of race. At one point she protects Clare due to their shared race and yet Clare has abandoned her race which justifies Irene’s hatred on her. Irene also finds it hard to describe Clare as biracial and this is because she struggles to give Clare a racial category. The sense of blackness in Irene is dependent on white domination instead of passing to the white world. Irene needs to reaffirm her identity with her husband as a black family living in a progressive blackneighborhood where blacks have a place. This is a clear depiction that Irene understands the space occupied by the blacks or are allowed by the whites to occupy. Irene’s pride of black heritage presents her as a strong black woman who is proud of her race.

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The creation of double consciousness in Irene by Clare forces her to push Clare out of the window. Passing. Createspace, 2012. Pile, Steve. Skin, race and space: the clash of bodily schemas in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks and Nella Larsen’s Passing. cultural geographies, vol.

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