Social Construction of Race in Nella Larsens Passing

The novel Passing by Nella Larsen explores the issue of race through elegant and brilliant plotting depicting a psychologically touching portrait of arousing extremity in the early American society. Larsen portrayal of the society stuck between desire and reason is captivating and quite sensitive on the issue of racial interaction. With its setting in society that upheld slavery, Passing explores the extreme ends, which in the early American society social construction of a particular race as superior and the other as inferior. The white people had the superiority complex that pushed them to viewing blacks as the other and forced them into inhuman slavery. Larsens Passing ultimately speaks volumes of the aspirations of the blacks in crossing the racial line the society had socially drawn among the races (Larsen, 32).

Through her characterization and setting, Larsen is able to bring out the social construction of race in entertaining and educated format in which race, class distinction, and identity themes are interplayed. The novel highlights Nella Larsen as outstanding African American literary writer and a modernist. The novel connects with historical accounts in American history on racial relations. The novel explores the effects of racial construction on a person on emotional, psychological, and physical level. Clare went on to say, Still, its his own business. If he gets along better by turning.., (Larsen 37). Larsen depicts the theme of racial identity using the two women characters, which represent African American in which one character totally has abandoned her roots for the white culture. This alienation of self connects with negative social values in the society, awakening several aspects of racial status.

The development of racial identity is more amplified among the ethnic minority groups with the resultant manifestations of racism being observed in several social places resulting to stereotypes. Larsen also explores the issue of self worth among the African Americans and how it relates to their evaluation of racial status. One crucial aspect here is discovery of personal identity and appreciation by the social group one belongs. Personality of majority of the minority groups connotes the deep seated bias that characterizes the broad aspect of racial identity. Personality is therefore configured along class, gender, sexuality, and race. Larsen belabours expounding the scintillating relationship that comes afore before a black individual can pass for white (Larsen 29). Through the eyes of Larsen the readers come to terms with a world in which people relate mutually regarding their skin and they also perceive others on their bodies  sensitive society. Therefore, people relive in a society in which each experience is shaped and shaded with major emphasis the peoples skin color. Adoption of a new identity by a black individual, therefore, entails embracing of the white culture despite their African heritage and incorporating American values held by the whites even though segregation persist after grasping the values of the whites.

The novel unravels a dramatic twist to the telling of the reality of the American culture that Larsen depicts where a person received or was denied privileges because of the tone of the skin. Skin color had impact upon the black people who undertook to endure the rite of passage to pass as white though the African heritage innateness remained intact. The perception is derived from the racial diversity that met early relations between the blacks and whites. Being Black was viewed as an obstacle to be endured and was greeted with outright verdict by the white majority in order to place them to their right social status, lifestyle and attitude of the contiguous society  noble savage to those aped the culture of the whites like Clare. The simulation of the book by the adoption of the main character to undergo the passing successfully as white race though not to imply she belonged to that race. This aspect depicts the social construction of the culture of the whites as the mainstream whereas that of the African Americans as the other  quite removed from what the society construct as the ideal (Larsen 49).

Larsen delves deep into history to shore up the various critical concerns that characterized the social divide experienced in the construction of the American society. Discrimination was the undefined code that propped up racial indulgence from either side of both whites and blacks. It may be, Rene dear, it may just be, that, after all, your way may be the wiser and infinitely happier one (Larsen 47). The allegiance of women to their race heralds an unlikely scenario, which is socially constructed, imposing a rather oppressive responsibility to race thus the aspect of escapism. The price for non-allegiance by some of the women resulted to labeling and complete abandonment as well as withdrawing of support for their race. Passing was perceived by the blacks as deserting of ones roots, which resulted to severe repercussions on the one hand. In Johnsons review of Larsens works, the main character in the novel, Irene, exemplifies the case of those caught between being who they are or aping the culture refered as the culture constructed by the society as mainstream. The desperation to belong to the superior race could not be any more deafening in order to enjoy the benefits of crossing the color line (Larsen 62).

Even after the era of slavery, crossing the color line meant great deal of achievement to the individual in gaining illusionary identity diversion. Severe punishment awaited those who tried to cross but failed, receiving brutal beating or even death by lynching because of their race. Although passing has after that been relegated to history, the undying effects sprout just about anywhere. Johnsons book confirms the issue of color to infect the whole of the American society. A critical example thus stated It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, as an individual, on ones own account, without having to suffer for the race as well. It was a brutality, and undeserved, (Larsen 98). However, there exists the irony of difficulty in passing for either sides of the racial divide. Larsen (10) says, She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race Nothing, she imagined, was ever more completely sardonic. The analysis of Larsens works outlines a never-ending struggle to liberate both blacks and whites from their own imperfections hewn in stereotyping of race.

In conclusion, Passing by Nella Larsen is undeniably a masterpiece of psychological plight of African Americans in the American society. The characters clearly depict the manifestation of a society that denies a person acceptance simply because he or she is of different race. That characters live on the fringes of race, traversing or passing is a clear indication of a society of tense racial relations. This presents the mobility of identities covering the whole racial divide and serves to destabilize notions of race and of raced spaces. The American society as Larsen successfully presents it shows the historical racial relations and how many people especially the blacks where treated by the whites in inhumane manner leading to psychological and social bankruptcy.


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