Sexual and Racial Tension in Larsen’s Passing
behind the eyes of only one of these characters, Irene. At first, forcing the reader to suspend themselves in only one of
seemingly painful descriptions of Clare only augment the racial and sexual tension that exists between them.
Irene spies the second letter Clare has sent her, dressed up in “Italian paper?out of place and alien” (Larsen 9), it is obvious
the group” (Larsen 20) and always wanted more out of life. Her desires and light skin eventually landed her in the “other
with someone who considers African-Americans “black scrimy devils” (Larsen 40). Here we see the first signs of racial and
sexual tension that exists between the two women. Irene is upset at Clare not only for completely denying and neglecting
sometimes passes herself as white for certain perks in life, such as eating in fancy restaurants or associating with high
sexual tension existing at this point as well.
may be conceived and her secret may be revealed. For Irene, sex is risky. She has set up such a perfect lifestyle with her
fact that Irene is constantly drawn back to Clare, regardless of what shenanigans she pulls. After her first incident with
time for supposedly having an affair with her husband.
There is an obvious reason why Irene is constantly drawn back to Clare. She is sexually attracted and fascinated by her.
Every time she talks about Clare, it is in a vivid and almost seductive way. The sexual attraction also goes both ways. Clare
towards Irene. The hints of sexual tension existing between these two women are peppered throughout the novel: “looking
face was what it always was, beautiful and caressing?” (Larsen 92). Clare’s husband finally confronts her for being black.
Even then, Irene is the last one to hold onto Clare before she falls out of a window and kills herself. Although Irene would
admit that she only held Clare’s arm to resist her freeing herself of her husband, I believe that Irene was attracted to her in
an unconscious way and her first instinct was to protect Clare’s safety.
Thus, there is a heightened amount of sexual and racial tension between Clare and Irene present throughout the story.
Both sexual and racial issues were like tightly wound corsets around women’s bodies at this time. These issues were
considered too improper to be discussed amongst upper class black and white women, although these feelings still existed.
Therefore, sentiments were often kept bottled up inside, and severe emotional problems could occur easily. Perhaps the
live and are still dealing with today.