SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-11 01:18Z by Steven

SAS Researchers Probe Racial Passing, Identity Based on Two Novels

American University of Nigeria
2017-05-01

Nelly Ating

The modern-day issues of “racial passing” and “identity,” dominated the April 20 SAS research seminar presented by Dr. Agatha Ukata and Dr. Brian Reed of the English & Literature department.

The duo’s research probes the phenomenon in “Being and Not Being:  How Society Negotiates Humanity.”  This is a study based on Nella Larsen, and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and on Isidore Okpewho’s Call Me by My Rightful Name.

This work will be presented at the African Literature Association conference at Yale University in June.

Leading the discussion, Dr Ukata said that despite disparity in the years of publication of the novels, it is astonishing to see the recurrence of “racial passing” in this era…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-05-06 02:06Z by Steven

The Manner of Blackness in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Volume 100, Number 2, 2017
pages 112-142

Michael A. Istvan Jr., Lecturer in Philosophy
Texas State University

Commentators have suggested that Nella Larsen’s Passing rejects the view that there is some sort of black essence. This article challenges this reading. Since Irene is the most vocal advocate of an essence in respect to which all blacks are homogenous, much of the evidence for thinking that Passing is skeptical about such an essence amounts to evidence for not trusting Irene’s judgment in general, and for not trusting her judgment on this matter in particular. My arguments, then, will often involve explaining why Passing is not leading the reader to mistrust Irene’s judgment on this matter. Now, what exactly is meant by a black essence is, explicitly in this book, mysterious. Nevertheless, this article intends to shed some light on how Passing understands the nature of this something, this je ne sais quoi, peculiar to blacks. My tentative interpretation is that this something is an intangible and indefinite manner of being that is neither a conscious choice nor an inborn fact of biology, but rather a given of culture. This article takes this, in effect, blackness manner to be, so Passing seems to indicate, a function of one’s belief that one is black in a milieu of pervasive anti-black prejudice. Passing thus has something to offer those today who struggle to adjudicate between a pull towards essentialism and a pull towards constructionism. What Passing emphasizes in this discussion is the possibility that, in addition to biological and societal influences, one’s mind state is a crucial ingredient to one’s racial identity.

Tags: , , ,

The Shadow of Lynching in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-19 20:14Z by Steven

The Shadow of Lynching in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Women’s Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal
Published online: 2017-02-22
pages 1-22
DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2017.1285767

Kangyl Ko
Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

Since Deborah E. McDowell’s groundbreaking essay on the representation of black female sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), many scholars have discussed how the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality unfolds throughout the novel. In her compelling reading of Passing, McDowell examines the hidden lesbian narratives beneath “the safe and familiar plot of racial passing” on which previous scholars have focused (xxx). McDowell’s excavation of the tale of sexual passing within the tale of racial passing has since inspired many scholars to further examine the novel’s exploration of black female sexuality, especially in terms of lesbian desire, and its appropriation and negotiation of the literary convention of the tragic mulatto—“the safe and familiar plot of racial passing,” as McDowell refers to it. The continuous trend in scholarship of Passing, whether it focuses on lesbian desire and/or the appropriation of the tragic mulatto narrative, links discussions of black female sexuality directly with racialized popular discourses about black female bodies in Jim Crow America. As a result, one of Larsen’s rhetorical and thematic threads that runs through her second novel has remained underexplored: lynching.

Following Grace Elizabeth Hale’s formulation of lynching as “cultural form” that “existed as both physical practice and as written and photographic representations” (360), I read Passing as a discursive platform where Larsen explores and challenges not only the dominant white lynching narrative, but also its counter-lynching narrative created by black male writers. As an iconic “cultural form” of Jim Crow America, lynching played a crucial role in defining and shaping interracial relations in the United States. Within criticism, lynching as a form of physical violence and a discourse has been addressed largely in terms of the black male body alone. However, black women were victims of lynching as well. They were “routinely lynched, burned, and summarily mutilated” (Wiegman 84)…

Tags: , , , ,

The “Highly Important Matter of Clothes”: Apparel and Identity in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-05-09 00:15Z by Steven

The “Highly Important Matter of Clothes”: Apparel and Identity in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

Fringe: The Noun That Verbs Your World
Issue 19, Summer 2009 (2009-07-19)

Kaley Joyes

Nella Larsen’s novel Quicksand (1928) is saturated with clothing. This essay examines the ways in which Larsen uses fashionable apparel to map connections between racial identity and aesthetic style. The narrator tells us that protagonist Helga Crane has “loved and longed for nice things” all her life (6), and this desire for “things” is a constant throughout the novel. Larsen tracks Helga’s quest for self-discovery not only across multiple geographic settings – from the American South to New York, Denmark, and back again – but also through multiple changes in costume. As the novel opens, Helga is a teacher at an elite African-American boarding school called Naxos. After becoming frustrated with the school’s repressive and assimilative hierarchies, Helga quits her job and returns to her hometown, Chicago, where she experiences a period of deprivation. The job she eventually finds takes her to Harlem, where Helga immerses herself in bourgeois black culture but soon tires of closeting her white ancestry. Helga next travels to Denmark to reconnect with her mother’s family. Far from being accepted as Danish, however, Helga is seen as an exotic outsider. She returns to America, hastily marries, moves to rural Alabama, and has five children in rapid succession. At the novel’s conclusion, Helga longs for the affluence and beauty of her premarital life, but there are no indications that she will renew her pattern of abrupt departures and new beginnings. Throughout Helga’s journey, fashion provides a useful symbolic register for racial identity. Like many mixed-race Americans, Helga is consistently identified – that is to say, defined – by her appearance.[1] Through Helga’s clothing, Larsen links modern culture’s deep investment in appearances to what W.E.B. DuBois famously identified as slavery’s twentieth-century heritage: “the problem of the color-line” (1), of how “to be both a Negro and an American” (5). The color line is particularly problematic for mixed-race Americans who may be displaced, and thus obscured, by the color line’s divisions.[2] This is not to say that Helga’s character can be entirely explained by her biracial heritage; rather, I read the connection between Helga’s clothing and her search for integrative mixed-race identity as one aspect of Larsen’s complex novel. By unpacking the ways in which Helga’s fashion choices signify the effects of being located between the color line’s demarcations, I hope to explicate Larsen’s keen understanding of commodified aesthetics’ relationship to modern identity formation…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Beautiful White Girlhood?: Daisy Buchanan in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-03-14 15:13Z by Steven

Beautiful White Girlhood?: Daisy Buchanan in Nella Larsen’s Passing

African American Review
Volume 47, Number 1, Spring 2014
pages 37-49

Sinéad Moynihan, Lecturer in English
University of Exeter

This article expands recent scholarship on race in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and intertextuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing by arguing that the latter is a “blackened” version of Gatsby. Mapping the genealogy of Passing, from Gatsby through Larsen’s first published work of fiction, “The Wrong Man” (1926), it proposes that Larsen’s allusions to Fitzgerald’s novel work to destabilize radically any secure sense of Daisy Buchanan’s whiteness by linking her quite emphatically with Clare Kendry. By reading Passing in this way, the article also reveals the extent to which Larsen built covert engagements with reading, writing and authorship into a text thematically preoccupied with looking, seeing and interpreting.

“The idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and—” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again.  —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925; emphasis added)

She couldn’t betray Clare, couldn’t even run the risk of appearing to defend a people that were being maligned, for fear that that defence might in some infinitesimal degree lead the way to final discovery of her secret. —Nella Larsen, Passing (1929; emphasis added)

In October 1927 The Forum published a debate entitled “Should the Negro be encouraged to cultural equality?” Writing in favor of the proposal was Alain Locke, one of the leading intellectuals of what was subsequently termed the Harlem Renaissance; writing against it was the nativist and eugenicist, Lothrop Stoddard. Although the thrust of Locke’s argument rests on encouraging cultural equality through white recognition of “Negro genius” as evidenced in the work of Countée Cullen, Langston Hughes and others, he anticipates Stoddard’s concern that “cultural equality” equates with interracial sex, marriage and reproduction. Locke identifies the hypocrisy of a situation by which a man who opposes “amalgamation” so passionately is the very man who “by the sex exploitation of the socially and economically unprotected Negro woman, has bred a social dilution which threatens at its weakest point the race integrity he boasts of maintaining and upholding” (Locke and Stoddard 503, 505). What is striking about Stoddard’s rebuttal is his refusal to acknowledge, as Locke does, that “amalgamation” is a fait accompli, that the amalgamation horse, if you will, had long ago bolted. For Stoddard, “the plain facts of the case” are as follows:

Since the Negroes form nearly one-tenth of the population of the United States, we are statistically light mulattos. In the last analysis, the only thing which keeps us from being biologically mulattos is the color-line. Therefore, once the principle of the color-line is abandoned, White America is doomed, and a mulatto America stands on the threshold.

(Locke and Stoddard 515)

By the term “statistically light mulatto,” Stoddard means that the American racial body (envisaged as white) is already one-tenth black. Stoddard believes that the color line must be policed rigidly if the other nine-tenths of the population are not to become “biologically mulattos,” as if America’s “white” majority were not already racially mixed. Here, Stoddard makes no admission of the possibility of what Joel Williamson terms “invisible blackness” (103): the prospect of a “black” subject’s looking, and potentially passing as, “white.”

This debate appeared halfway through the four-year interval between the publication of two apparently unconnected novels: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929). In Tom Buchanan, as several critics have noted, Fitzgerald creates a mouthpiece for the ideas of Lothrop Stoddard, especially those articulated in The Rising Tide of Color against White World-Supremacy (1920), thinly disguised in The Great Gatsby as “The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard” (Gatsby 18). Meanwhile, Larsen was not only an exemplar of “the cultural flowering of Negro talent” that Locke identifies; she was also, being of Danish and African Caribbean ancestry, the embodiment of the “hybridization” Stoddard so feared (Locke and Stoddard 507, 514). Here I consider the tissue of connections suggested by this exchange between Locke and Stoddard: between the Harlem Renaissance, contemporaneous eugenicist discourses and racial passing and, ultimately, between The Great Gatsby and Passing. This article argues that in Passing Larsen responds to both Stoddard and Tom Buchanan, that Passing is in fact a “blackened” version of The Great Gatsby. Indeed, as Thadious Davis discovers, Larsen wrote to Carl Van Vechten in 1926 of the possibility of “blackening” Francisco de Quevedo-Villegas’s novel Pablo de Segovia (1595), and it was a similar kind of literary blackening that led to the plagiarism charge leveled at her in 1930 when readers of “Sanctuary” noted the remarkable similarities between this and a story published by British writer Sheila Kaye-Smith in The Century in 1922 (Davis 165–66, 351). In fact, “Sanctuary” appeared in The Forum and Larsen was the first black writer to place fiction there. It is therefore possible, indeed likely, that she read the exchange between Locke and Stoddard. While the plagiarism charge is not my primary concern, Larsen’s engagement with Fitzgerald’s text is so obviously critical and self-conscious as to raise questions about where we draw the line between what Linda Hutcheon would term a “critical reworking” of the literary past, and one that is more uncritically derivative (4)…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Nella Larsen Reconsidered: The Trouble with Desire in Quicksand and Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-02-26 21:10Z by Steven

Nella Larsen Reconsidered: The Trouble with Desire in Quicksand and Passing

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Volume 41, Issue 1 (Spring 2016)
pages 165-192
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlv083

Rafael Walker
Department of English
University of Pennsylvania

This paper challenges the pervasive tendency to treat Larsen’s work as explorations of black women’s lives and examines the distinctly biracial perspective that her fiction attempts to elaborate. I argue that her novels employ narratives of frustrated desire in order to show the impossibility of the racially liminal subject in a society that thinks in black and white. In developing this argument, the essay explains the aesthetic and theoretical implications that ensue from taking this biracial perspective seriously. For instance, it shows how each novel mobilizes a distinct ontology of biracial identity—biraciality as synthesis in one case (Quicksand [1928]) and biraciality as oscillation in the other (Passing [1929]). In its discussion of the aesthetics of Larsen’s fiction, the essay demonstrates how this shift in racial perspective enables us to reassess her endings, which vexed critics in her day and continue to vex readers in ours (including the scholar arguably most responsible for Larsen’s current prominence, Deborah E. McDowell). Aware that aversion to the essentialist “tragic mulatta” trope has been one of the primary impediments to concentrating on biraciality in Larsen’s work, I offer ways of understanding Larsen’s focus on biraciality as more—rather than less—subversive of American racial ideology than previous studies suggest.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,

Contested Identities: Racial Indeterminacy and Law in the American Novel, 1900-1942

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-01-27 03:14Z by Steven

Contested Identities: Racial Indeterminacy and Law in the American Novel, 1900-1942

University of Connecticut
2014-05-08

Rebecca S. Nisetich

In Contested Identities, I chart the path of the legal and literary discourses on racial identity, codified by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision and culturally ascendant in the early decades of the twentieth century. In this period, a group of American writers produced fiction that implicitly challenged this legal and cultural discourse. My project explores the literary productions of Charles W. Chesnutt, Nella Larsen, and William Faulkner—three writers who undermine, question, and critique the legal and social practices that seek to define and contain individual identities in binary terms. Specifically, in Contested Identities I explore why Chesnutt, Larsen, and Faulkner create characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable, and why they intentionally position these figures in relation to the law.

At the center of each of these texts there remains a void where racial information might be clearly articulated, defined, or corroborated, but isn’t. This enables Chesnutt, Larsen, and Faulkner to underscore an unresolved tension between what must be true and what cannot be known, a dynamic which throws into relief the maddening complexity of human experience in opposition to cut-and-dry legal and popular definitions of “race,” which operate under the assumption that blood proportions are easily known, and that specific blood proportions determine identity. I argue that it is racial indeterminacy that animates these writers’ explorations of identity, and that it is the fundamental theme that binds these characters and texts together. The law treats race as a matter of identity; my dissertation argues that the law is instead a crucial factor in the formation of the racial identity of individual characters.

Available for download here on or after 2024-05-01.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Quicksand and Passing – Nella Larsen

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-01-11 01:56Z by Steven

Quicksand and Passing – Nella Larsen

The Writes of Woman: Reviews of books by female writers
2015-11-24

Naomi Frisby

Quicksand and Passing are two novellas packaged together and reissued by Serpent’s Tale in the UK. They both share the key theme of being a woman of colour in America early in the twentieth century but the two pieces explore ideas around this in different ways.

Helga Crane is twenty-three and a teacher at Naxos, ‘the finest school for Negroes anywhere in the country’. Helga’s out of favour at the school and urgently wishes to leave despite her engagement to a colleague. Her fiancé has ‘naturalized’, fitting into the school and its values. Helga, however, ‘…could neither conform, nor be happy in her unconformity’. She’s failed to impress his family too:

Negro society, she had learned, was as complicated and as rigid in its ramifications as the highest strata of white society. If you couldn’t prove your ancestry and connections, you were tolerated, but you didn’t “belong”. You could be queer, or even attractive, or bad, or brilliant, or even love beauty and such nonsense if you were a Rankin, or a Leslie, or a Scoville; in other words, if you had a family. But if you were just plain Helga Crane, of whom nobody has ever heard, it was presumptuous of you to be anything but inconspicuous and conformable…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,

The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-12-22 04:26Z by Steven

The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Edwin Mellen Press
2013
176 pages
ISBN10: 0-7734-4077-1; ISBN13: 978-0-7734-4077-7

Steven Troy Moore, Assistant Professor of Language and Literature
Abilene Christian University, Abilene Texas

This book examines the contrasting experiences of black rage that is exhibited in the writings of male and female African American authors. It boldly captures the compelling theme of the white silence and the black rage that battled each other from the early days of slavery up to the pre-Civil Rights Movement. It exposes the birth of black rage and the African American experience through such writers as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs. Next, it gives a painful glimpse into the complicated experience of the biracial in the post-Reconstruction era through the eyes of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen. Finally, this study concludes with an astounding view of the modern state of black rage through the controversial writings of Richard Wright and Ann Petry. Currently, many studies present a one-dimensional analysis of black rage; however, this book provides a comprehensive examination of this phenomenon. From the viewpoint of African American authors, it traces the gender differences of black rage that span one hundred years and includes valuable insights from such brilliant scholars as bell hooks, Cornel West, Barbara Christian, Martha J. Cutter, Deborah E. McDowell, and James Baldwin.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Maureen Honey
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • “Get Over It”
  • Chapter 1: Examining a Century of Silence and Rage in African American Literature, 1865-1946
    • Introduction
    • Literature Review
    • The Duality of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs
    • The Biracial Worlds of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen
    • Richard Wright’s Explosive Rage
  • Chapter 2: Silent Trees: Personal Reflections on Silence and Rage
    • The Silence
    • Silence and Rage
    • Mark
    • Blackness: Silence and Identity
    • Words from bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X
  • Chapter 3: Witnessing the Birth of Black Rage in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and Harriet Ann Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
    • The Enduring Pain of Slavery
    • The Autobiographical Rage of Frederick Douglass
    • Impotent Rage
    • Black Female Rage in Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    • The Slave Girl and the Sexual Predator
    • The Female Slave’s Alternative Retribution
    • Lasting Blow: The Lingering Influences of Slavery
  • Chapter 4: The Phenomenon of Biracial Rage in Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900) and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929)
    • The Biracial Identity
    • The White Mask in The House Behind Cedars Chesnutt’s Biracial Female
    • Black Female Rage in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand A Place to Belong: Location and Helga’s Biracial Identity
    • The Biracial Female in Passing Differed Rage
  • Chapter 5: Exploring the Explosive Urban Rage in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and Ann Petry’s The Street (1946)
    • Brutal Clarity
    • “Like a Red-Hot Iron”: Bigger Thomas’s Burning Rage
    • The White Cat and the Black Rat
    • Native Son’s Perpetuating Rage
    • The Furious Hell of Ann Petry’s The Street
    • The White Heaven: Petry’s Contrasting Spaces
    • The White Ideal and the Black Other
    • Blackness and Claustrophobic Spaces
    • Explosive Black Female Rage
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Passing Paradox: Writing, identity & publishing while black

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-09-23 23:51Z by Steven

The Passing Paradox: Writing, identity & publishing while black

Fusion
2015-02-13

Stacia L. Brown

A wife lives in constant fear that her husband will discover she’s not who she claims to be. A black aspiring architect is mistaken for an ethnicity other than his own and is offered a job he never would’ve accessed had he corrected the error. A pregnant mother prays nightly that her baby’s skin won’t betray a bit of brownness. Such are the predicaments of characters in the early 20th century “passing narratives” I’ve loved since my days as an undergraduate English major.

To “pass,” as African American writers in the early 1900s defined it, was to choose to escape from the violence and discrimination attendant to blackness — a privilege possible only for those whose skin was light enough to pull it off. Peaking in popularity by the 1930s, passing narratives were often melodramatic and cautionary, detailing the myriad dangers of abandoning one’s black identity in order to take cover amid the white communities that systemically oppressed black citizens.

The penalty for being caught passing could be as merciless as emotional and physical abandonment or as cruel as a violent death. In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, for instance, one of the story’s protagonists, Clare, either falls or is pushed from the top floor of a building during a party. Unbeknownst to her, her racist white husband has discovered her blackness through her light-skinned friend, Irene, who isn’t exactly passing. When he charges toward her stumbles out to her death.

Passing narratives not only interrogate the fluidity of racial identity and assess the stakes of racial allegiance, but also double as slow-burning thrillers: Race itself is the stalker, an implicit threat skulking in the backgrounds of seemingly contented, white identified lives…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,