Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-09-07 22:37Z by Steven

Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Modern Language Association
2016-09-01
2010 pages
6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9781603292191
Paperback ISBN: 9781603292207

Edited by:

Jacquelyn Y. McLendon, Professor Emerita of English & Africana Studies; Director Emerita of Black Studies
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

Nella Larsen’s novels Quicksand and Passing, published at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, fell out of print and were thus little known for many years. Now widely available and taught, Quicksand and Passing challenge conventional “tragic mulatta” and “passing” narratives. In part 1, “Materials,” of Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen, the editor surveys the canon of Larsen’s writing, evaluates editions of her works, recommends secondary readings, and compiles a list of useful multimedia resources for teaching.

The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” aim to help students better understand attitudes toward women and race during the Harlem Renaissance, the novels’ relations to other artistic movements, and legal debates over racial identities in the early twentieth century. In so doing, contributors demonstrate how new and seasoned instructors alike might use Larsen’s novels to explore a wide range of topics—including Larsen’s short stories and letters, the relation between her writings and her biography, and the novels’ discussion of gender and sexuality.

Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • PART ONE: MATERIALS / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
  • PART TWO: APPROACHES
    • Introduction / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
    • Historical and Cultural Contexts
      • Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Literary and Legal Context of the Passing Narrative / Martha J. Cutter
      • Nella Larsen’s Modernism / Caresse John
      • Helga Crane in West Egg: Reading Quicksand and The Great Gatsby as a Case Study in Canonicity / Shealeen Meaney
      • “A Whole World of Experience and Struggle”: Teaching Literature as Cultural and Intellectual Women’s History / Lyde Sizer
      • Nightlife and Racial Learning in Quicksand / Clark Barwick
    • Fiction and the Arts
      • Sounding and Being: A Resource for Teaching Musical References and Symbolism in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand / Gayle Murchison
      • Nella Larsen and the Racial Mountain: Teaching Black Musical Aesthetics in Passing and Quicksand / Lori Harrison-Kahan
      • Nella Larsen and the Civilization of Images: Teaching Primitivism and Expressionism in Quicksand / Cristina Giorcelli
    • Identity
      • “Anything Might Happen”: Freedom and American Identity in Nella Larsen’s Passing / Beryl Satter
      • Teaching Passing as a Lesbian Text / Suzanne Raitt
      • Approaching Gender in Quicksand / Beth Widmaier Capo
      • From “My Old Man” to Race Men in Quicksand / Riché Richardson
    • In the Classroom: Methods, Courses, Settings
      • The Matter of Beginnings: Teaching the Opening Paragraphs in Quicksand and Passing / Steven B. Shively
      • Versions of Passing / John K. Young
      • The Uses of Biography / George B. Hutchinson
      • “In Some . . . Determined Way a Little Flaunting”: Teaching with Nella Larsen’s Letters / M. Giulia Fabi and Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
      • Teaching Quicksand in Denmark / Martyn Bone
      • Teaching Nella Larsen’s Passing at an Urban Community College / Zivah Perel Katz
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Survey Participants
  • Works Cited
  • Index
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Psychological Lens Reveals Racial Repression at Heart of ‘Passing’

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-09-06 02:35Z by Steven

Psychological Lens Reveals Racial Repression at Heart of ‘Passing’

University of Kansas
2022-08-31

Rick Hellman
KU News Service

LAWRENCE – While many literary critics have found Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella “Passing” to be frustratingly opaque, and others have concentrated on its themes of same-sex attraction and class consciousness, an essay by a University of Kansas professor of English finds that racial repression is the focus of the novel by analyzing it from a Freudian perspective.

Doreen Fowler said she believed that the shift to a psychological reading explains why the two main characters — Irene, who lives as a Black woman, and Clare, who passes for white — are doubled.

In an article titled “Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing” in the latest edition of The South Atlantic Review, Fowler wrote that the main character, Irene Redfield, “works to erase signs of her black identity — but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American iden­tity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.”…

Read the entire press release here.

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Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-09-04 03:06Z by Steven

Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

South Atlantic Review
Volume 87, Number 1, Spring 2022

Doreen Fowler, Professor of English
University of Kansas

Critics of Passing have often observed that the novel seems to avoid engagement with the problem of racial inequality in the United States, and Claudia Tate goes so far as to write that “race … is merely a mechanism for setting the story in motion” (598). In the apparent absence of race as the novel’s subject, scholars have identified class or lesbian attraction as the novel’s central preoccupation. (1) While same sex attraction and class are certainly concerns of the novel, I would argue that critics have overlooked the centrality of race in the novel because the subject of Passing is racial repression; that is, a complete solidarity with an oppressed, racialized people is the repressed referent, and, for that reason, race scarcely appears. As a novel about passing, Larsen’s subject is a refusal to fully identify with African Americans, but Larsen’s critique is not only directed at members of the black community who pass for white; rather, Passing explores how race is repressed in the United States among both whites and some members of what Irene refers to as “Negro society” (157). Throughout the text, darkness is blanketed by whiteness. Even the word black or Negro seems to be nearly banished from the text. As I will show, the novel explores how an association with a black identity is repressed by many characters, including Brian, Jack Bellew, Gertrude, and other members of Harlem society, but Irene Redfield, the central consciousness of the novel, through whose mind events are perceived and filtered, is the primary exponent of racial repression. Jacquelyn McLendon astutely observes that Irene Redfield “lives in constant imitation of whites” (97). (2) Building on this observation, I argue that Irene, who desires safety above all, identifies safety with whiteness and represses a full identification with the black community out of a refusal of the abjection that whites project on black people. For this reason, Irene not only imitates whites in her upper-class bourgeois life, she, like a person passing for white, works to erase signs of her black identity–but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American identity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.

In this essay, I propose that Larsen turns to Freudian theory to analyze the psychological dimension of racial repression. As Thadious Davis observes, Larsen was “very much aware of Freud, Jung, and their works” (329), and the cornerstone of Freud’s theory is repression. According to Freud, “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious” (“Repression,” SE 14:147). Repression, then, is a form of self-censorship, which occurs, Freud explains, when an instinct is driven underground because the satisfaction of that desire…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Back to race, not beyond race: multiraciality and racial identity in the United States and Brazil

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-06-23 14:37Z by Steven

Back to race, not beyond race: multiraciality and racial identity in the United States and Brazil

Comparative Migration Studies
Volume 10, Article Number 22 (2022)
DOI: 10.1186/s40878-022-00294-0

Jasmine Mitchell, Associate Professor of American Studies and Media
State University of New York-Old Westbury, Old Westbury, New York

In contrast to discourses of multiraciality as leading to a future beyond race, this commentary looks at how multiracial discourses and symbols underline race. Taking an overview of multiracial discourses and identities in relation to Blackness in the United States and Brazil, this commentary examines the deployment of multiraciality to maintain white supremacy. Under global capitalism, United States multicultural discourses, and Latin American foundational narratives, multiracial peoples are often propped up as a solution to racism, the eradication of race, or reduced to racial binaries centering whiteness. The section ends with considerations of how fears of racial passing and fraud coincide with multiracial identities. Questions for further consideration on the nexus of political identities and racial identities are proposed in relation to multiraciality.

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The Importance of Being Turbaned

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2022-05-21 22:25Z by Steven

The Importance of Being Turbaned

The Antioch Review
Volume 69, Number 2, Spring 2011
pages 208-221

Paul A. Kramer, Associate Professor of History
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

This narrative piece, selected by The Best American Essays 2012 as a “notable essay,” tells the story of Rev. Jesse Routté, an African American Lutheran minister in New York who, in response to racist abuse during a 1943 trip to Mobile, Alabama, returned four years later disguised as a turbaned, Swedish-accented “foreigner.” When he reported positive treatment, it flaunted contradictions in Jim Crow’s racial definitions.

Read the entire article here.

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Why Not Pass?

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-05-20 15:21Z by Steven

Why Not Pass?

Yes!
2022-05-18

Gila K. Berryman

Illustration by Fran Murphy/YES! Media

The Vanishing Half” deals with the theme of racial “passing” in the 1950s. Passing is different today, but still presents a choice between safety and authenticity

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was one of the most popular novels of the last few years—a bestseller on multiple “best book” lists. The story begins in 1954, when identical twins Stella and Desiree, aged 16, run away from home and their Southern town of light-skinned Black folks. In a year, the twins will go their separate ways, “their lives splitting as evenly as their shared egg,” when Stella crosses over to pass as White—she disappears, marries her White employer, and doesn’t look back.

American Whiteness exacts a high price in exchange for its safety and privilege. In order to pass, Stella severs every connection to her previous life so she can hide her true identity, even from her husband. As a result, she can never completely let her guard down around White people, and she refuses to have anything to do with Black people for fear that they might recognize some vestige of her Blackness…

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The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-05-16 19:38Z by Steven

The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

The Boston Review
2022-05-13

Meena Krishnamurthy, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

A still from Rebecca Hall’s film Passing, based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Image: Netflix

Though a means of escaping and undermining racial injustice, the practice comes with own set of costs and sacrifices.

In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, adapted by Rebecca Hall and distributed on Netfli­x last fall, Clare Kendry—a light-skinned Black woman—decides to pass as white. Clare grows up poor in Chicago; after her alcoholic father dies, she is taken in by her racist white aunts. When she turns eighteen she marries a rich white man who assumes she is white. Clare makes a clean escape until, some years later, she runs into her childhood friend, Irene Redfield, at a whites-only hotel; Irene, it turns out, sometimes passes herself, in this case to escape the summer heat. The storyline traces their complex relationship after this reunion and ends in tragedy for Clare.

Hall’s film adaptation joins several other recent representations that dramatize the lived experience of passing. The protagonist of Brit Bennett’s best-selling novel The Vanishing Half (2020), for example, decides to start passing as white in the 1950s at age sixteen after responding to a listing in the newspaper for secretarial work in a New Orleans department store. Much to her surprise, after excelling at the typing test, Stella is offered the position; her boss assumes she is white. Initially Stella keeps up the ruse just to support her and her sister, but passing also becomes a way for her to escape the trauma of her father’s lynching and the prospect of her own…

Read the entire article here.

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‘Lost Boundaries’ Doctor Ousted, Charges Bias

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom on 2022-05-09 03:30Z by Steven

‘Lost Boundaries’ Doctor Ousted, Charges Bias

JET Magazine
1953-06-25

Dr. Albert C. Johnston, Negro physician in Keene, N. H., whose story of passing for white was told in the movie Lost Boundaries, was fired from his post as radiologist at Keene’s Elliott Community Hospital. Chester Kingsbury, hospital board president, said racial prejudice was not the reason for the dismissal, claimed that Dr. Johnston could not devote full time to the job. Dr. Johnston said he would not seek reinstatement, Dr. Johnston explained there was “no doubt whatsoever” that he was fired because of the film of his life. “They have been picking on me ever since my story came out (in 1949). I don’t give a darn for the job itself, but I’m concerned over the fact that I was fired because I’m a Negro,” he declared. The physician said he learned that the hospital was looking for a new radiologist soon after he let his children know their racial identity in 1947, added that “somebody began knifing me.”

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Lost Boundaries: How a UNH student inspired one of America’s first “race films” and why we’re still talking about it

Posted in Articles, Biography, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-05-09 02:34Z by Steven

Lost Boundaries: How a UNH student inspired one of America’s first “race films” and why we’re still talking about it

New Hampshire Magazine
2022-04-12

J. Dennis Robinson
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

A Johnston family portrait. From left to right, standing: Albert Sr. and Albert Jr. From left to right, seated: Thyra, Paul, Ann and Donald.

How a UNH student inspired one of America’s first “race films” and why we’re still talking about it

Albert Johnston Jr. was 16 when he found out he was Black. His fair-skinned African American parents had been “passing” as white, they told him, since moving from Chicago to rural Gorham, New Hampshire, and later to Keene. His father had been the town’s country doctor with 2,500 white patients. He was an active member of the school board, the Masons and the Rotary. His mother Thyra was a two-time president of the Gorham Women’s Club and active in the Congregational Church.

Born in 1925, growing up skiing the White Mountains, Albert had only a single Black acquaintance in high school. In an era of widespread racial segregation and discrimination, he felt a seismic shift as he adapted from a dark-skinned Caucasian to a light-skinned Negro. Formerly gregarious, he drew inward. He attended and then dropped out of Dartmouth College. He enlisted and left the Navy, talked of suicide, battled with his parents, and spent time in a psychiatric ward.

Then Albert took a road trip. Decades before Ken Kesey and “Easy Rider,” with only a few dollars in their pockets, Albert and an old school chum named Walt hitch-hiked and hopped freight trains from New Hampshire to California. For Albert, it was a spiritual journey into the homes of his long-lost African American relatives and into the roots of Black culture. For Walt, who was white, it was a great adventure with a good friend. After odd jobs, a love affair and a stint at the University of California in Los Angeles, Albert found his way home. Renewed and focused, he enrolled in the well-regarded music program at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. And there in a UNH college lounge in front of 20 fellow students, Albert (Class of ’49) finally laid his burden down. During a seminar on the “race problem” in America, the topic turned to “cross-bred” people. He could offer some insight on that topic, Albert told his classmates, because he, himself, was a Negro. The room got very still, he later recalled, like the sudden silence after the climax of a concerto.

“Why not tell everybody?” Albert said. “Why carry a lie around all your life?”…

Read the entire article here.

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How one Civil Rights activist posed as a white man in order to investigate lynchings

Posted in Articles, Audio, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Social Justice, United States on 2022-04-21 20:32Z by Steven

How one Civil Rights activist posed as a white man in order to investigate lynchings

Fresh Air
National Public Radio
2022-03-30

Dave Davies, Guest Host

White Lies author A.J. Baime tells the story of Walter White, a light-skinned Black man whose ancestors had been enslaved. For years White risked his life investigating racial violence in the South.

Listen to the story (00:42:04) and read the transcript here.

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