3- Consider the structure of the novel, broken into the three sections, “Encounter,” Re-
Encounter” and “Finale.” What seems to be the main action or message in each section, and
how do those three work together overall?
The first part of the novel ‘Passing’ is referred to as the encounter segment. It begins in an unremarkable routine whereby Irene is opening her mails but it does not dwell on this aspect for to long. Additionally, it illustrates Irene immediate memories of her childhood friend Clare. Clare was a woman with a fraught childhood and a dramatic personality establishing a deep contrast between herself and Irene. Larsen is also exceedingly precise when she describes Clare even in her physical aspects. This creates a lasting image of Clare as a woman in her own social class and her clothes, gestures and eyes make a strong impression even on Irene. The encounter gives a grueling description of both Clare and Irene in their own separate worlds and struggling to fit into the society as whites even though deep down they have mixed feelings about their identity. For Clare it is a struggle to appear white, as she wants to be assimilated into the white society an aspect that comes with varying privileges. Irene wants to appear white only when she is in the mood of acquiring certain privileges. She is not driven by the illusion since she respects herself as a black woman in a racist world. She acknowledges her heritage and is willing to popularize it through the Harlem Renaissance. This early chapters of the encounter are dedicated to establishing Irene’s and Clare’s personalities and situation slowly getting in to the race factor. They also depict the meeting between Irene and Clare exchanging some of the stories of their lives. Clare is yearning to be a part of the black heritage that she has distanced herself from for a long time. As the encounter reaches its conclusion, it remains to be known whether Clare can manage to reconcile the different faces of her personality or whether her lifestyle will be to her own detriment.
The second phase of the novel is referred to as the re encounter. In this section, Irene’s feelings about Clare are unclear and he views the desire for reconnection by Clare as an impulse motivated by self-interest aspects. Irene is outrageous even from the start having negative feelings towards Clare and even cursing her at some point. At this point, Larsen brings in a new major character Brian who is Irene’s husband. As depicted, Brian is a handsome restless doctor, trait brought out in his acting, thinking and talking. This section brings out aspects of social decorum where there are conversations and narrations about the two main characters Irene and Clare and their husbands and how they both view their counterparts. Brian and Irene are surrounded by tension in their relationship and are both unhappy. Irene is aware of this but takes the issue casually only working to frustrate her husband even more. On the other hand, there is the relationship between Bellew and Clare. This relationship is based on a lie and could be more tense than Brian’s and Irene’s relationship. However, Clare is used to playing along to her husband’s desires and whims and this makes their relationship seem more harmonious. ‘Passing’ depicts marriage life as a treacherous terrain that has to be navigated using negotiations, compromises and suggestion. Nevertheless, as the reencounter nears its climax Clare has already re-ingratiated herself back into the black society and is in constant communication with Irene. This was her desire from the beginning but as the reencounter ends, she is in tears. The notion of tears after she has accomplished her desire leaves the readers wondering whether this are tears of regret or fear about what is to come in the future. The reencounter ensures the resolving of racial and emotional tensions in Claire’s life.
The final part of the ‘Passing’ is identified as the Finale and it has exceedingly many incidents even though it takes up less space that the encounter and reencounter segments. In short, this is where Irene senses that her friend Clare has been having an affair with Brian, Irene witnesses Clare’s death and meets John Bellew face to face. The finale seems to illustrate that Clare’s passing was unconventional and risky doomed to meet a tragic end. Irene also feels pain in the finale as he realizes that Brian her husband has been having an affair despite of all the effort she has put into their marriage. Irene is portrayed as a woman in pain but working hard to suppress the pain by showing a bright and composed face at social gatherings. As the novel ends, there is no concrete evidence that there was an affair between Brian and Clare or how Clare fell.
These segments and the way they are structured bring out the illustration of trying to establish identity through various forms of social decorum. Even though Clare meets a tragic death at the end, his narrative throughout the novel depicts her as a strong, loving and self-motivated individual. The flow of Clare’s narrative through Irene’s eyes brings out the nature and difference of the two worlds that Clare and Irene lived in capturing the audience in an ambiguous way.