Irene and Clare as Foil Characters in Passing
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Irene and Clare were the main characters in Passing written by Nelly Larsen. Most scholars appreciate this novel since it showed that racism could occur between members of the same race (Ginsberg 78). Both Clare and Irene were African Americans. However, Clare had a lighter skin compared to Irene. This made her to view herself as a White and thus she hid her identity as a Black woman. In contrast, Irene was loyal to her culture. This essay focuses on how Irene and Clare are foil characters. Although Irene and Clare seem different in Passing, they were similar in several ways.
Irene and Clare were similar since they did not like their marriage lives. There was tension in the marriage between Irene and Brian. This could be proved by the arguments that she had with her husband. He argued with her husband when he tried to teach his children of the realities of racism. Furthermore, some scholars argue that there was a possibility of existence of homosexuality attraction between Irene and Clare. Irene claimed that when she encountered Clare, she could not help but adore her beauty and surrender to her charm (Wall 89). Furthermore, Brain and Irene slept in separate beds and this could suggest that they had sexless marriage. “If sex is not a joke, what is it?” says her husband Brain after Irene had asked him to lecture her boys on not making inappropriate jokes (Larsen 59)” There is a possibility that Clare was not happy with her marriage life. She wanted a divorce to separate herself from John but Irene argued that she could not let this happen. Irene claimed, “…could not have Clare Kendry cast aside by Bellew. She could not have her free (Larsen 91). ” Furthermore, there is a possibility that Clare liked Brian. Some scholars argue that although Clare did not like dark skinned men, her attraction could have been caused by her desire to rediscover her African American heritage. Irene was worried that Clare would steal her husband from her and thus some scholars argue that there is a possibility that Irene pushed Clare out the window.
Irene and Clare are similar since they are both envious of each other. Clare wanted to rediscover her African American roots after meeting with Irene. However, Irene did not want to help her since there is a possibility that she was envious of her. Clare heard that there would be a Negro Welfare League dance and she was anxious to attend this dance with Irene in order to meet with other black people. However, Irene stated to her, “I don’t care where you go or what you do. All I am concerned with is the unpleasantness and possible danger which your going might incur… (Larsen 55)” Her envy towards Clare could be one of the reasons that made her to push Clare outside the window. She stated, “It seems dreadful in here. Do you mind if I open the window? ....Irene finished her cigarette and threw it out, watching the tiny spark slowly down to the white ground below (Larsen 110)” Clare was also envious of the life that Irene lived and that is why she wanted to be like her. Furthermore, the main reason that she invited Irene for tea was so that she would learn about her Black culture since there is a possibility that she envied the culture of Irene. Clare was also envious that Irene had married a black man. This could be the main reason that led her to flirt with him although he did not like dark skinned men.
The character of Irene was different from that of Clare since Irene was loyal to her culture while Clare was not. Clare pretended to be White during the most part of her life. She ignored her heritage and claimed that dark skinned people were freaks of nature. She used the advantage of her light skin to pass off to the White community. She married a White racist man known as John Bellow. However, Clare wanted to reconnect with her Black heritage after she met with Irene (Brown 114). She invited Irene together her friend known as Getrude for tea in an effort of reconnecting with her culture. However, during this tea, her husband came and revealed his racism when he called Clare “Nig”. He stated, “… I do not dislike them, I hate them. And so does Nig, for all she’s trying to turn into one (Larsen 40).” Contrast to this, Irene was loyal to her heritage. This was shown by her lifestyle since although she was not wealthy; she raised money to host events for her local Harlem organization. When Clare’s husband insulted Irene because she was Black, Irene did not respond proving that she was loyal to her heritage and thus she would not be moved by criticisms about her origin.
To conclude, although Clare and Irene seem different as characters in Passing, they were similar in several ways. They were similar since they did not like their marriage life. Irene always argued with her husband on several issues. Furthermore, they slept in separate beds. Clare was not happy with her marriage life since she wanted a divorce from John. They were similar since they were both envious of each other. Irene did not want to teach Clare of her culture since she felt threatened by her. Clare was envious towards Irene since she wanted her Black husband. However, the character of Irene and Clare was different since Irene was loyal to her culture while Clare was not loyal to her culture. Clare pretended to be White and she even stated that Black people were freaks of nature. Contrast to this, Irene liked her culture and heritage since she failed to respond when Clare’s husband insulted her for being Black.