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Produktart: Buch
Verlag: Diplomica Verlag
Erscheinungsdatum: 02.2010
AuflagenNr.: 1
Seiten: 52
Sprache: Englisch
Einband: Paperback


Larsen and other African-American writers, including James Weldon Johnson, explored the intricacies and contradictions of the concept of race at the beginning of the 20th century, in particular by addressing the phenomenon of 'passing'. Passing has many definitions, most often it is associated with the term 'passing for white', which implies the crossing of the colour line from black to white in order to transcend racial barriers. Until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, writers hardly had addressed the passing figure in literature. Passing has always been a much camouflaged topic because the successful passer does not want their identity to be uncloaked. This constitutes probably also the main reason why only little, and rather pioneering, research has been conducted up to today and why it still remains difficult to investigate the issue. The sole witnesses of the concepts of passing in the time period are passing narratives. James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man (1912), Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and her novella Passing (1929) are perhaps the most exemplary examples of an analysis of the passing figure and classic epitomes of the racial situations during the Harlem Renaissance. The novels challenge stereotypes of race and disclose concepts of doubleness and visibility. In order to disentangle the complexities of the theme, these novels, will serve to examine in depth in the nature and the motifs of the phenomenon of passing. In this book, I will be exploring the motifs of passing in these novels of the Harlem Renaissance in the context of DuBois’ concept of double consciousness and the discourse of race. Chapter One will set the critical historical and cultural context for the passing narratives, as this is indispensable and crucial for the understanding of the motifs of the theme. With this in mind, the second Chapter will account for what destabilizes the African-American identity and thus identify the motives of passing. It will explore how external factors like legislation as well as extremely influential social taboos affect the mulatto protagonists and what influencing variable double consciousness, as an internal factor, plays. In quest for a stable and fulfilling identity, African Americans travel along the colour line and pass into different roles for a life outside the veil without restrictions. In Chapter Three, I will therefore analyse passing as an attempt to escape the confines of race and double consciousness and will also pay special attention to the motif of travel. At this point, I will in particular explore the question whether the journey of Larsen’s and Johnson’s passing figures fulfils its promise of a stable or even new form of identity. The concluding Chapter will critically reflect on the subject of passing and its potential to challenge racial categorization and boundaries. I will analyse whether passing proves a successful strategy to refrain from social restrictions and double consciousness and whether concepts like that of DuBois’ third self are promising for a stable identity. This final Chapter will incorporate a conclusion in which I will look behind the veil of the phenomenon and explore the ways in which passing defies the essentialism of the discussions of race.


Text Sample: Chapter 4, Passing- The Journey for an African-American Identity: Passing appears to be a pragmatic solution for African-Americans to escape racial restrictions and categorisation of the society and to evade a double-conscious life behind the veil. Accomplishing the act, the passing figure adopts different roles, which promise a completion of their identity but also depend on a variety of motives. In order to successfully adopt these roles the passer needs to travel. Subsequently, this chapter will explore the different roles the passing figures in the novels adopt and will examine whether travelling helps them in the provision of a sufficient and fulfilling identity. Social roles Due to the fact that the gravity of the aspirations can vary from one person to the other and that each African-American lives in different economic circumstances, two main types of roles, which the passing figure might adopt, become identifiable: full-time and part-time. Sollors’ remark suitably summarizes that passing might be undertaken part-time for job purposes on a daily basis (…) or for avoiding segregation in transportation, hotels, restaurants, theatres, clubs, and other places of entertainment” or full-time for the duration of an individual’s life or it may be temporary or sporadic (though full-time) for a shorter or longer period in a person’s life, for a single purpose or temporary scheme, such as escaping from slavery, finding and holding a job, completing a program of education, or simply while waiting for an advantage moment to ‘come out”. Larsen’s Passing constitutes a very explanatory example as it describes the relationship between Irene, who passes only occasionally for white, and Clare, who has permanently crossed the colour line. In the beginning of the novel, the reader can observe how Irene, edge(ing) her way out of the increasing crowd, feeling disagreeably damp and sticky and soiled from the contact with so many sweating bodies” and entering Drayton Hotel (a whites-only zone), is being wafted upward on a magic carpet to another world, pleasant, quite, and strangely remote from the sizzling one that she had left below” and thus, passes into her role as a white. Irene, however, does not only adopt a social role to pass for her temporary personal benefit but also due to her need for immediate safety.” Brody sees this as an evidence of her distaste for the working class.” Clare, in contrast to Irene, passes permanently into the role of a white person and it could be suggested that she, driven by the previously discussed force of the American materialism, passes to escape the lower class. The image the reader is given of Clare as pale small girl” describes her sitting on a ragged blue sofa, sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father […] raged threateningly up and down the shabby room, bellowing curses and making spasmodic lunges at her.” This designation shows that Clare grew up in a poor working class environment. In order to escape this life and to get all the things [she] wanted and never had had,” she passes permanently for white and thus, in her Gatsbyesque ascendance”, she even outclasses Irene concerning class and material affluence. As Clare herself reveals, passing is the only way to be no charity or a problem, or even a daughter of the indiscreet Ham”, but to be a person”. Johnson’s ex-coloured man also passes into the role of a white but as he passes in different settings and different stages in his life, his motives are very miscellaneous. On the one hand, his conscious pass for white as an adult can be assigned to financial reasons and the out of it resulting uplift in (racial) class or on the other hand, to an escape from discrimination. Prevalently, the ex-coloured man is very money and class conscious. He accounts for money repeatedly throughout the novel and also categorizes the society into three classes in respect to their relations with the whites.” There is the desperate class” of common labours, the class of servants” and the upper class, the well-to-do and educated”, who have money, education and culture” and who live in a little world on their own.” This awareness and that the unkempt appearance, the shambling, slouching gait and loud talk and laughter of these people aroused in [the narrator] a feeling of almost repulsion” indicate that he passes for a higher and more advantageous class. The money, which is implied by a better class, can be seen as a symbol of mobility.” Therefore, it can be suggested, it also enables the protagonists to travel, thus enfolding their identity, and to be socially mobile. Carby reviews this in relation to Quicksand, where this money allowed [Helga] her social movement she bought her way out of a Jim Crow car and eventually out of Harlem.” Moreover, the ascendance to an upper class, it could be suggested, implies, for the ex-coloured man and the characters of Larsen’s Passing, the ability to completely unfold their identity. In addition, their Gatsbyesque ascendance epitomizes a part of the American dream the ability to leave behind an old identity and to define a new identity, different from the one a person was born with. Paradoxically, this cult coexists and contradicts the dominant moral condemnation of the racial passer at that time. The passing figure, here, reveals what is behind the veil and in this way the veil offers the opportunity to see and to report to America the truth of a divided nation”.

Über den Autor

Kathleen Wehnert, Jahrgang 1981, studierte an der Technischen Universität Dresden Lehramt für berufsbildende Schulen (Fächer: Gesundheit/Pflege und Englisch) und absolvierte dieses Studium 2008 mit dem Staatsexamen sowie dem Diplom-Berufspädagogen. Während ihres Studiums bekam Wehnert ein Stipendium für ein Studium in Middlesbrough/ England, welches sie 2007 mit dem Bachelor of Arts (Honours Degree) in Englisch und Medienwissenschaften abschloss. Seit 2008 arbeitet Wehnert als Berufsbildende Lehrerin in Leipzig.

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