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Past BOTM discussions > Jan 2018 BOTM: Passing

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message 1: by Jen (last edited Jan 03, 2018 11:46AM) (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Passing is a novel[a] by American author Nella Larsen, first published in 1929. Set primarily in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in the 1920s, the story centers on the reunion of two childhood friends—Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield—and their increasing fascination with each other's lives. The title refers to the practice of racial "passing", and is a key element of the novel.

Larsen's exploration of race was informed by her own mixed racial heritage and the increasingly common practice of racial passing in the 1920s. Praised upon publication, the novel has since been celebrated in modern scholarship for its complex depiction of race, gender and sexuality, and is the subject of considerable scholarly criticism. As one of only two novels that Larsen wrote, Passing has been significant in placing its author at the forefront of several literary canons.

1. Passing functions as a metaphor with several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Several people have already mentioned one meaning. what are the others?

2. Whose story is this? Clare’s or Irene’s? From whose perspective if the story narrated and how does this strategy affect the story?

3: In what ways is the notion of performance part of the book's content and structure? Who is performing and for whom?


message 2: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book?

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem. What do you know about Harlem of the 1920? What sort of expectations do you have from knowing this is the setting (what will the book be about, etc)?


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 1. I expected to like this book. I tend to like books that explore societal norms, especially those that question those norms and push boundaries. This one did both. I have never even heard of her before I saw the title of this book, so no I haven't read her other book.

2. In today's world the word passing is used a lot for individuals who are transgender or nonbinary. Yes I have heard it before as I know several young adults who are in those categories.

3. I really know nothing of Harlem in the 20s. Well, except Jazz music was a large part of the culture and the racial makeup of the city was mostly African American. I have been to Harlem many times as an adult and so I could still picture it while reading.


message 4: by Gina (new)

Gina Andrews | 58 comments 1. I expect to like this book and have it mean something to me personally. My children are black/white mix and while there is no mistaking my daughters black heredity, my son could "pass" for Hispanic. I haven't read anything else by her though.

2. I have heard of the term "passing" being used for African-Americans whose skin color is so light that they could be mistaken for white. Unlike Kelly, I have never heard of it being used for transgender individuals

3. The only thing I know about Harlem in the 1920's is that that was when the Harlem Renaissance occurred, with a great explosion in cultural, social, and artistic movements.


message 5: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1409 comments I knew nothing about the book, have never heard of "passing" and am still unsure about its connotations and I know nothing much about Harlem in the 1920's. So I start with no expectations at all. Could "passing" mean that someone pretends to have another heritage than the one they know about? This is intriguing to me because I have just had my DNA tested and I have a strong Scandinavian heritage I knew nothing about but now family tease me about my Viking characteristics.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "I knew nothing about the book, have never heard of "passing" and am still unsure about its connotations and I know nothing much about Harlem in the 1920's. So I start with no expectations at all. C..."

Passing is when a person can go incognito. A black person who is light enough skinned to "pass" as white. In the LGBTQ world the person who is transgender uses it to say they look like their chosen identity and people do not see them as their gender assigned at birth.


message 7: by Daisey (last edited Jan 02, 2018 08:00AM) (new)

Daisey | 255 comments I actually read this book yesterday as my first book of the new year before starting some longer choices. I had never heard of Nella Larsen until the discussion for choosing this month's books, but I was happy to pick up her two novels together. I hope to read Quicksand later this year (it's on my TBR list for this group if the right number is chosen).

I have heard of passing in this context of someone with African heritage living as white and read a YA novel called Flygirl with passing as a major plot point.

I know very little about Harlem of the 1920s except that is was a cultural center for African Americans at the time. After reading the book I didn't find this setting to play as prominent a role in the story as I would have expected.


message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
I didn’t realize this was such a short book. I will post some additional discussion questions later today for those of you who have already finished the book


message 9: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1381 comments I have not started the book yet but I learned about ‘passing’ from an old Douglas Sirk film called Imitation of Life. Great movie if you love those old old old ones. I believe it stars Lana Turner.
I expect to really appreciate this book but do not know much about the Harlem of the time or about the author.


message 10: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1409 comments I have finished it too, and found it really thought-provoking. There were a lot of slang expressions that I found difficult to guess from the context: mashers, for example, and those I think I could such as "fay" - did that mean gay? There were many surprises. Irene went to take tea in mid-afternoon and it turned out to be a cold drink yet later an afternoon tea party was what I would have expected! "Passing" as an act of cultural identity I had not heard of before although I have experience of the phenomenon. I have a close friend who never admitted that she was part-Maori until it became fashionable when she was in her 60's. The term "passing" is ambiguous as a title when the end of the book is considered. I thought that very clever.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I just started The Human Stain by Philip Roth. It is my #13 for the TBR challenge. It also has a "passing" storyline!


message 12: by Sue (new)

Sue Dix | 61 comments Jen wrote: "Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book?

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem. What do you..."


I have finished the book, and it was better than my expectations and has left me wanting to read her other book.

I have heard of the term “passing” in similar context, black passing for white. I had not even thought of it in the context of the LGBTQ+ community. It gives me a whole new understanding.

I don’t know much more about 1920s Harlem than what is touched on in the book: jazz, nightclubs, very happening.


message 13: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2042 comments Read: 2016
Rating: 4 Stars

I read this a couple years ago and enjoyed it. "Passing" for white had its advantages and disadvantages. Being light-skinned and having Caucasian features enabled some African-Americans to experience white privilege. The down side, as in Irene's case, is being forced to live a lie to keep one's race a secret. In order to keep this secret, Irene had to sever ties with her past life and identity. It is very sad that she feels forced by society to make this decision in the first place. Another point Larsen made in her book Quicksand, was that people of mixed ancestry often had difficulty fitting in, since they were neither fully accepted by whites nor blacks. This, unfortunately, is still true today for many.


message 14: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
You all are way ahead of me. Here are a few more questions "taken from U of Kentucky site.

Use spoiler tags if needed. More questions to be posted in a few days but feel free to add your own questions/thoughts too.

1. Passing functions as a metaphor with several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Several people have already mentioned one meaning. what are the others?

2. Whose story is this? Clare’s or Irene’s? From whose perspective if the story narrated and how does this strategy affect the story?


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Sue wrote: "Jen wrote: "Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book?

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem...."


I have a person I love who is transgender. So I have learned a lot in the past two years.


message 16: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2042 comments I have a person I love who is transgender. So I have learned a lot in the past two years. "

Same here, but one year, not two.


message 17: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Q3: In what ways is the notion of performance part of the book's content and structure? Who is performing and for whom?


message 18: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Pip wrote: "I have finished it too, and found it really thought-provoking. There were a lot of slang expressions that I found difficult to guess from the context: mashers, for example, and those I think I coul..."

"fay" is slang for white people. My book included footnotes which included this definition


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Jen wrote: "Pip wrote: "I have finished it too, and found it really thought-provoking. There were a lot of slang expressions that I found difficult to guess from the context: mashers, for example, and those I ..."

Oh, I wish mine did. That is always so useful.


message 20: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 454 comments I finished the book just now, before reading this thread, but I went into with few expectations (not low, just few, I prefer not to know or expect too much when starting a book). I did enjoy it quite a lot. It was very strange and terrible for me to read about having to pretend to be white to gain access to restaurants, or fearing that your children will be born dark. And this obsession with race, and seemingly one black ancestor umpteen generations ago would make you not white. This is something completely unknown to me, both because I am white, and, perhaps as significantly, I am not American. And just such a vicarious glimpse into a different experience and reality is one of the main reasons why I read.

Like Kelly I am used to "passing" referring to transgender, and that's my first association, but I was also aware that the term has a history of referring to skin colour/race.

As for whose story it is, I'd say it is both Claire's and Irene's. They are both representatives of different ways of coping. But since we only know what Irene is thinking, we have to take her insights (and read between the lines) to find out about Claire. Irene's perceptions and insights do seem to tally with what's between the lines, for the most part, although I think she shows some severely bad judgment a few places. But I also wonder if maybe Irene imagines more than is there.

Who is performing and for whom... Who isn't performing! They're all performing for everyone, even themselves. There's practically no genuine conversations in the book. Maybe some of the characters are genuine. We don't really learn enough about them. The focus is all on the performances.


message 21: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1409 comments I have already alluded to the term "passing" as a rather twee way of saying that someone has died. Is it similarly an affected way of describing someone who is one gender but living as the other? I am not familiar with the term in that context at all! So there are three meanings: pretending to be of one skin colour (I agree with Leni that the privileges of one skin colour over another can be so devastating); pretending to be a different gender and a term referring to dying.
The story is told by Irene and that strategy affects the story because we are not sure how reliable she is as a narrator. Specifically, we do not know whether Clare was having an affair with Irene's husband, or whether she was imagining the whole thing. What happens at the end is also unclear because Irene is herself confused.
Clare is the star performer, she has been acting her part ever since she went to live with her aunts. But Irene also admits that she sometimes pretends to be white to get better service. She also hides her dismay at both Clare and to her husband despite being so afraid of losing him. Irene and Gertrude Martin both acted with remarkable sang-froid when Clare's husband was being particularly racist. As Leni has pointed out there was a lot of acting going on!


message 22: by Leni (last edited Jan 03, 2018 05:55PM) (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 454 comments Pip wrote: "I have already alluded to the term "passing" as a rather twee way of saying that someone has died. Is it similarly an affected way of describing someone who is one gender but living as the other? I..."

No, it describes someone who is able to "pass" as cis gender rather than trans gender. For instance, you are born with masculine sex organs but you perceive yourself as female. You go through hormone treatments, you might have surgery, you are a woman. If you are able to pass you won't be constantly questioned about your gender identity, you are not viewed as a "man in drag" and you are not at constant risk of being beaten up (unless you are suddenly outed, in which case you could be in severe danger because people think you've deceived them). I think, but I can't really speak for trans people, that they would consider themselves not as passing for being a woman (or man), but as passing for being cis. So rather that trying to be something they are not, they are hiding part of what they are.

This is something that struck me in the book as well... They all talk about passing for white. And seems the rule is that you can look 100% white, grow up white, live like white people, but if it turns out you are even 1% black, then that's what you are. It just seems crazy. All these people passing have white ancestry as well as black. If passing implies pretense, then it seems to me more like they are passing as non-black than passing as white. Because they are both. Except that by illogical and racist definition they are not.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "I have already alluded to the term "passing" as a rather twee way of saying that someone has died. Is it similarly an affected way of describing someone who is one gender but living as the other? I..."

In regards to transgender it is not about pretending to be another gender. It is about trying to not be outed everywhere you go. Be able to live as the gender you are in your mind. It is about going into a restaurant and having the waiter call you sir or ma'am -- saying you look the way you want to look.


message 24: by Paula (new)

Paula S (paula_s) | 220 comments Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book?

I didn't have a lot of expectations; she is a new author to me. The only thing I knew about the book before starting it was that it was about some women with different opinions about passing for white - whether one should utilize having a light skin tone for passing as a white person or whether one should be open with one's heritage.

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context.

Yes, I knew the term 'passing' both in this context (of hiding one's racial heritage) and the transgender context others have brought up above. I believe I first heard the term used in the context of escaped slaves and being able to avoid recapture by passing as white.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem. What do you know about Harlem of the 1920? What sort of expectations do you have from knowing this is the setting (what will the book be about, etc)?

I didn't know when the book was set when I started reading and it is only around half-way through the book that a date (1927) is mentioned. It seems to me that the story could be set at any time or place where there is segregation and racism.


message 25: by Paula (new)

Paula S (paula_s) | 220 comments Second set of questions:
1. Passing functions as a metaphor with several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Several people have already mentioned one meaning. what are the others?
Passing for white
Passing as a metaphor for dying
Passing as in being approved by society and hiding one's flaws

2. Whose story is this? Clare’s or Irene’s? From whose perspective if the story narrated and how does this strategy affect the story?

We only hear Irene's story. She's an unreliable narrator and keeps knowledge away from the reader. The only parts of Clare's story we get are the one's seen through Irene's eyes or that Irene takes part in. I'm curious about how Clare feel about her life.

3: In what ways is the notion of performance part of the book's content and structure? Who is performing and for whom?

Everyone is performing. Irene performs in her role as wife and mother, to look good in the eyes of society. Her husband hates his job, but has to pretend to like it when he is at work. All women in the book hide their racial heritage at least once during the novel, if only for faster and better service at a restaurant.

To be honest, I think we all act some part of our lives no matter how honest we try to be. There is always some situations where we have to be seen as more competent or more perfect or more innocent than we really are, but very few people go as far as Clare does. Living like Clare does, under the constant threat of being exposed to her racist husband, seems horribly stressful.


message 26: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1381 comments I agree with Paula S in the various ways that Passing is used in this book. Although I learned about the horror of feeling as if one had to pass for a different race to get what one wanted in life and how race is defined by society in a very narrow and constricting way, the book becomes larger for me when it also references everyone passing in society by attempting to cover up some core part of their being. Irene is in need of projecting calm when her core being seems to be highly anxious and terribly fearful of change. We all attempt to control aspects of our environment that we actually have little control over.


message 27: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book? I had no expectations going into the book as I hadn't heard of the author before, I was pleasantly surprised.

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context. I personally had never heard the term passing in any context, I may have heard that someone could pass for white but didn't realise there was a specific term for that.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem. What do you know about Harlem of the 1920? What sort of expectations do you have from knowing this is the setting (what will the book be about, etc)? Again I know nothing about 1920's Harlem so had no preconceived ideas as someone mentioned above the setting of Harlem doesn't really impact the story.


message 28: by Book (last edited Jan 06, 2018 10:03AM) (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
Second set of questions:
1. Passing functions as a metaphor with several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Several people have already mentioned one meaning. what are the others?
Passing for white
Passing as in dying, interesting it is her fathers death and her aunts bigotry that lead to Clare passing.
Passing out of one life and into another

2. Whose story is this? Clare’s or Irene’s? From whose perspective if the story narrated and how does this strategy affect the story?

(view spoiler)

For me this was more Irene's story as it is her who is telling the reader what happened, this means everything we know is filtered through the lens of Irene and her take on things is passed onto the reader.

3: In what ways is the notion of performance part of the book's content and structure? Who is performing and for whom?

Everyone is performing - Clare is performing every day of her life so that everyone in her "white" social circle believes she is white as well. She performs for men using her beauty to get what she wants. She performs for Irene with her friendship.

Irene is performing - she has to act the role of loving wife, mother and good friend while all the time she is actually thinking murderous thoughts. She performs when she meets Clare's husband by pretending not to know him. She is also a society woman so a lot of her time is spent smoozing other people which requires a lot of acting skills.


message 29: by Book (last edited Jan 06, 2018 09:52AM) (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
I am going to throw in a question for everyone :) what do you think actually happens at the end of the book?

(view spoiler)


message 30: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Can I make a reminder add spoilers if needed. That way if people who haven’t finished reading don’t see the ending 😊

I will add my theory when I get home - can’t figure out how to do spoilers on the app


message 31: by Sushicat (new)

Sushicat | 292 comments First set of questions:
Expectations: none (good or bad). I had no knowledge of the book or the author prior to voting.
Passing: not a term I was familiar with
Harlem 1920: only very vague notion

Second set of questions:
Passing functions as a metaphor: Passing oneself off for something we are not - though what exactly we are, is really not as clear as one would like to think. Passing for white, passing for strong, confident, successful, self assured, safe.... in the eyes of others or of oneself.

Whose story is this? It's Irene's story. Clare is just a trigger for her insecurities, for her to reflect on her choices and compare them to other options. As is said in the book, there is always a price to pay. And in the end the choice may turn out not to deliver what was expected. Like Irene's constant anxiety about her safe life, or Clare's need for the company of people she feels at home with.

Who is performing and for whom? Everybody is performing for everybody. So much of Irene's musings are about perceptions rather than realities.


message 32: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 454 comments Book wrote: "I am going to throw in a question for everyone :) what do you think actually happens at the end of the book?
"


I think that (view spoiler)


message 33: by Sushicat (new)

Sushicat | 292 comments I don't know how to do spoilers - but I agree with Leni.


message 34: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 454 comments Sushicat wrote: "I don't know how to do spoilers - but I agree with Leni."

For spoilers you put the word spoiler inside <> and at the end of the spoiler you put /spoiler inside <>


message 35: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
I too agree with Leni. That is how I interpreted the ending too.


message 36: by Dree (new)

Dree | 243 comments I read this book last March. I am pasting my review below as per the "ways to get participation points".

This thread has been interesting I have only ever heard the term "passing" in terms of race/ethnicity, most specifically in terms of black and white neighborhoods and opportunities. Occasionally I have heard it in reference to ethnicity as well, usually for work or housing reasons someone would change their name and/or leave a neighborhood to get a better job not available to them otherwise. (I'm a genealogist, so this comes up surprisingly often, but was (normally? always?) not the "betrayal" and isolation that black to white passing was.

My review:

A short novel about a woman who crossed the color line in 1920s New York/Chicago. After her parents' deaths, teen Clare was sent to love with her elderly white aunts in New York. And with that, she successfully crossed the color line, marrying a wealthy white businessman.

But that meant she could not go back to Chicago, and had to let those friends go. And her husband teases her for how dark she gets in the sun. They have a daughter, Clare is beautiful, but when she runs into her childhood friend Irene some 20 years later, she admits she misses the culture she grew up in and the people she grew up with, despite wondering why more don't cross just for the convenience.

But she is playing with fire. Visiting Irene and another friend or two, making new friends, attending events in Harlem. She must know this won't end well--Irene is worried.


message 37: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
What is really annoying is that the app removes spoilers so will have to wait for tomorrow when I boot up the pc to find out what you all think grrr


message 38: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 454 comments Book wrote: "What is really annoying is that the app removes spoilers so will have to wait for tomorrow when I boot up the pc to find out what you all think grrr"

You can, instead of using the app, log in with a browser on your phone/tablet. The layout isn't optimal, but at least you can check out the spoilers.


message 39: by Dianne (last edited Jan 06, 2018 01:10PM) (new)

Dianne | 193 comments I read this book earlier this year and was glad to have encountered it, as it informed me about specific instances of racism in america during this time period that I never would have thought of. What a gut wrenching 'choice' it must have been for those who 'passed', to be forced to eschew all vestiges of their family and heritage in order to be treated fairly and equally. Clare is portrayed as vain, rather unintelligent and extremely selfish, yet as others have raised Irene is utterly obsessed with her. What are Irene's true feelings towards Clare? She HATES her so much, yet she is helpless under her power like a moth to a flame.

(view spoiler)


message 40: by Sushicat (new)

Sushicat | 292 comments Leni wrote: "Sushicat wrote: "I don't know how to do spoilers - but I agree with Leni."

For spoilers you put the word spoiler inside and at the end of the spoiler you put /spoiler inside "


Thanks!

Weirdly enough I just came across another instance of passing in this creepy graphic novel I’m reading. Here it refers to somebody passing as healthy in an environment where people are afflicted by a sort of plague.


message 41: by Jen (last edited Jan 06, 2018 05:12PM) (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
additional questions
4. Notice the relationship between Irene and Clare. What is it based on?
5. What are the female characters’ perspectives on motherhood?
6. What are Irene’s attitudes in terms of race? Are they any different from John Bellew’s?
7. As a character, is Clare Kendry meant to be admired or criticized within the broader context of the narrative?


message 42: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
4. Notice the relationship between Irene and Clare. What is it based on? I have seen another reviewer who has studied the book suggest that Irene is in love with Clare and he cites the fact that Clare has such a hold over Irene and a magnetic pull on her, in her presence Irene is happy and she enjoys the casual caresses Clare gives her. That view puts an interesting spin on the narrative.

5. What are the female characters’ perspectives on motherhood? Irene seems to be a dedicated mother whose first thought is her children whereas Clare seems selfish she is glad her daughter was born "white" and didn't give her away but she seems willing to sacrifice her security for the thrills Clare herself gets with the black community.

6. What are Irene’s attitudes in terms of race? Are they any different from John Bellew’s? Irene appears to proud of her heritage except when being mistaken for Italian makes her life easier. She appears to believe that the black community is a great thing but she is not above using white money to further the cause.

7. As a character, is Clare Kendry meant to be admired or criticized within the broader context of the narrative? I really don't know the answer to this one as she is shown from both viewpoints and I didn't get the feeling that any judgement was passed within the confines of the novel.


message 43: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
In response to Leni's thoughts on the ending

(view spoiler)


message 44: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1381 comments 4. That is an interesting idea that Irene felt in love with Clare but I didn’t get that from my reading. I think that Irene is fascinated with Clare and the fact that she was getting away with all the risks that Irene felt to be the opposite of a life well lived. I think Irene couldn’t help but be loyal to Clare and protective of her but she was also bullied by her. We are often fascinated by extremes, from extreme disasters, extreme weather and extreme risk takers. However, the fascination was also make Irene quite upset and unstable.


message 45: by Daisey (new)

Daisey | 255 comments 1. Passing as a metaphor
I won't repeat what several others have said, but I did think these multiple meanings made much more of the title than I originally thought about.

2. Whose story is this?
I definitely think of this as Irene's story. All we know of Clare is through Irene's perception, and as the story goes on she seems to be less and less of a reliable narrator.

3. Performance
Everyone is performing to some extent, but I think the interesting part is that although Irene seems to condemn Clare for her performance, she is performing just as much. She is working so hard to look like the perfect wife and mother that she's possibly causing it to fall apart around her.

4. Notice the relationship between Irene and Clare. What is it based on?
I thought their relationship was somewhat based on both of them wanting to be able to go back to some aspect of their childhood. They were friends then, so they try to make it work again. I can see the argument for Irene being in love with Clare, but it doesn't really work for me.

5. What are the female characters’ perspectives on motherhood?
I think that Irene feels it is her responsibility to be a mother and to strive to be a good one. I don't think that Clare ever wanted to be a mother and she does not seem to have much attachment to her daughter.

7. As a character, is Clare Kendry meant to be admired or criticized within the broader context of the narrative?
I definitely do not feel she is meant to admired, but maybe she is supposed to make the reader feel some sympathy for the constant balancing act she's attempting in order to get what she thought she wanted.

As for the ending, (view spoiler)


message 46: by MaryAnn (EmilyD1037) (last edited Jan 08, 2018 08:51AM) (new)

MaryAnn (EmilyD1037) | 1 comments I read this last night. I liked it a lot, gave it 4 stars. The end was sudden and a bit iffy ... did she fall out of the window ? did Irene push her? did she chose to go out the window on her own? Each ending would mean something different depending on the answer

Q1: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read her other book?

My expectation of 1001 books are always low ;-) I like so few of them. So, I was pleasantly surprised that this story was interesting. I had never heard of her or any of her books/stories. I might try to find the other book since I liked this one.

Q2: Have you heard of the term "passing" and if so, in what context.
Yes, I have heard of the term "passing" in this context.

Q3: This book is set in 1920s Harlem. What do you know about Harlem of the 1920? What sort of expectations do you have from knowing this is the setting (what will the book be about, etc)?
I know nothing about 1920's Harlem. All I know about are more recent times.

**************************************
1. Passing functions as a metaphor with several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Several people have already mentioned one meaning. what are the others?

I have only heard this in connection to racial identity.
I know no one who is transgendered.
The only other way I have heard of "passing" is as
"passing" a test or grade level and passing as in dying.

2. Whose story is this? Clare’s or Irene’s? From whose perspective is the story narrated and how does this strategy affect the story?

IMO it is Irene's story. Clare kind of flips in and out of the
story at the strangest times.

3: In what ways is the notion of performance part of the book's content and structure? Who is performing and for whom?

I agree with the statement that all are performing.

4. Notice the relationship between Irene and Clare. What is it based on? I have seen another reviewer who has studied the book suggest that Irene is in love with Clare and he cites the fact that Clare has such a hold over Irene and a magnetic pull on her, in her presence Irene is happy and she enjoys the casual caresses Clare gives her. That view puts an interesting spin on the narrative.

I did feel that there was an almost "lover" relationship between the two women. I also feel that Irene was living vicariously thru
Clare's "passing". She appears to be wanting to "pass" as well,
except her spouse won't pass.

5. What are the female characters’ perspectives on motherhood? Irene seems to be a dedicated mother whose first thought is her children whereas Clare seems selfish she is glad her daughter was born "white" and didn't give her away but she seems willing to sacrifice her security for the thrills Clare herself gets with the black community.

Irene is overprotective of her sons. We all have to grow up knowing that we have some flaw that will make living life a little harder than we would like. I agree in some ways with the father.
Clare is pretty selfish, especially as she "expects" everything to go her way.

6. What are Irene’s attitudes in terms of race? Are they any different from John Bellew’s? Irene appears to be proud of her heritage except when being mistaken for Italian makes her life easier. She appears to believe that the black community is a great thing but she is not above using white money to further the cause.

7. As a character, is Clare Kendry meant to be admired or criticized within the broader context of the narrative? I really don't know the answer to this one as she is shown from both viewpoints and I didn't get the feeling that any judgement was passed within the confines of the novel.

This would be a difficult decision. She is obviously living a "lie"
and that is certainly not a good way to live. She is also taking some awful chances with her daughter. (and her husband for that matter) As a woman, I can't imagine how anyone would knowingly pretend to be one race and allow their children to
not know the truth. Sooner or later the truth will come out, as it did with Clare.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments (view spoiler)


message 48: by Jen (last edited Jan 09, 2018 07:21AM) (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Kelly wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

(view spoiler)


message 49: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
Kelly wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

Glad I am not alone with my theory ROFL


message 50: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Given the fact that we are all discussing this...


why did the author end the book the way she did?

(view spoiler)


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