THE NOVEL: Nella Larsen, Passing

1.write an essay in which you analyze the use of point of view in the novel’s narration. Is the
point of view omniscient, limited, etc. How does point of view in the novel affect (facilitate
or frustrate) the reader’s attempts at interpretation?
750-1000 words



Nella Larsen’s novel ‘Passing’ is written from a third person omniscient point of view. The point of view emanates from Irene one of the main characters and it allows the readers to know what she is thinking and doing. However, there are varying aspects of an unreliable narration within the novel displayed through the existence of uncertainty in some sequences of events. The point of view is quite unique to the plot as it brings in aspects of sympathy throughout the text whereby readers can relate with the characters. It allows readers to form relationships with the characters taking into account their opinions and judging them through Irene’s eyes. This segment explores the point of view in ‘Passing’ analyzing how it affects readers attempts at interpretation.

Passing can be described as a conventionally structured novel telling a tale from a controlled omniscient perspective. In the narration, tension emanates from the main character and concludes in a web of mystery and ambiguity. The narrations purpose lies within varying psychological and social problem areas illuminating various racial and personal relationship dilemmas. Larsen who was an African-American writer and participant of the Harlem Renaissance explores varying aspects of her times narrating the life of a light skinned African American who decides to live in the society as a white hiding her true racial history from the world. Passing also studies marital issues that emanate from suspicion, jealousy, financial problems, need for personal fulfillment and infidelity. The individual who initiates the narration and propels it Clare Kendry. Clare causes the examinations of personal values and the confrontation of identity and I should think that she herself is literally passing through the narrative. Larsen focuses on the lives of two African American ladies whose live took radically different path. The two ladies seek out each other and meet after years of separation. Clare has been deliberately distancing herself from her past and has decided to live as a white woman. However, Irene, from whose perspective readers get their point of view, has remained true to her racial identity and is willing yet with a heavy heart to accept her friends request to help her reconnect with her race.

Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are two complex characters within the novel ‘Passing’ and the third person point of view makes their stories even more complex and confusing. However, the point of view in the narration focuses more on what Irene is feeling, thinking and doing. This makes it difficult to understand what the other characters are thinking but raises and facilitates aspects of sympathy for Irene more than the other characters. Irene in the passage seems to be more loving and caring in the way she stays true to her identity and race. This causes the readers to be sympathetic to her even though in the end one may tend to dispute this interpretation and raise the question of whether Irene is still deserving of our sympathy. Additionally, Irene is exceedingly judgmental in the way she harshly judges Clare’s actions, criticizes Gertrude for marrying a white man and negatively speaks about her husband. This kind of interpretation arises from the third person point of view where readers are able to identify all of Irene’s flaws through the exhibition of her feelings, thoughts and attitudes. These aspects tend to oppose the aspect of Irene being caring and loving highlighting her as to been harsh jealous and judgmental.

The third person omniscient point of view in ‘Passing’ is largely based on aspects of being sympathetic with the characters. One can sympathize with Clare from the beginning of the narration due to her loneliness and tough situation of trying to live a lie. Due to varying social and economic reasons Clare chooses to live a lie hiding from her own personal identity. However, through the narration, readers understand her ply since she come from an exceedingly difficult past. Her past was overcrowded by loss and mistreatment. Therefore, her loneliness combined together with her difficult past greatly affects the way we as readers view her. Additionally, her longing to connect with her ‘black side’ makes readers know that she is genuine and sympathize with her. Her longing for reconnection is often seen in the way she always wants to join her friend Irene in dances, gatherings and occasions that bring together African Americans. Furthermore, one can feel her remorse as she tells Irene that she is the wiser, happier and safer one. Despite of this friendship between Clare and Irene, it is evident that Clare was exceedingly jealous of Irene and did not care about any of her feelings. This is seen in the way Clare gets close to Irene’s husband. However, Clare gets an unexpected and horrible ending as she was pushed through a window by an unknown character.


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