Passing By Nella LarsenNella Larsen's novel, Passing, provides an example of some of the best writing the Harlem Renaissance has to offer. Nella Larsen was one of the most promising young writer's of her time.
Though she only published two novels it is clear that she was one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Her career as writer probably would have lasted longer, but she was accused of plagiarizing her short story, Sanctuary. She was eventually cleared of any wrong doing, but the accusation deeply tarnished her reputation as writer. It is truly a shame that the first African-American woman to win the Guggenheim Fellowship was forced out of writing by scandal. Before being haunted by scandal, Nella Larsen played an intricate role in the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a movement that started toward the end of World War I and lasted through the mid 1930's. It was the first notable movement of African-American writers and artists in the United States.
It was given the name Harlem Renaissance because the movement was centered in the Harlem district in New York City. More African-American writers and poets were published during this period in the United States than ever before. Not only were African-American writers being published more, but they were also getting a great deal of recognition for their work. The body of work characteristic of this time period showed a heightened sense of racial consciousness. African-American writers during this time were not only seeking to counteract racial prejudice, but were also perpetuating the cultural heritage of Africa. Some of the major writers born from this period include Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Neale Hurston and of course, Nella Larsen.
The writing of the Harlem Renaissance explored a variety of themes and genres. The writer's experimented with a wide variety of styles as well. Langston Hughes for instance explored the lives of working-class African-Americans. Jean Toomer explored what life was like for very poor African-Americans.
Countee Cullen on the other hand explored the problem of racism and the definition of Africa for African-Americans. Nella Larsen explored the restrictions faced by African-Americans according to their skin color. Nella Larsen's novel, Passing was her second as well as last novel and was published in 1929. To get a better idea of what this novel is about, one must understand what exactly passing is.
Passing is when African-American men or women with light skin pass themselves off as white in order to enjoy the privileges that were afforded to white people during this period in American history. The Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling of separate, but equal was still in effect at this time in history. Therefore, one could understand why it could be advantageous for African-Americans who had light enough skin to pass themselves off as white.
Passing is narrated by the character, Irene Redfield, who is a middle-class, light-skinned African-American woman who deplores passing. She is married to a doctor, with whom she has two sons, who is too dark to pass. Irene is somewhat self-consciously proud of her African heritage. Irene's life is going along as usual when.