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In Nella Larsen’s Passing, Larsen Reifies Blackness but Not Whiteness

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Proposition: In Nella Larsen’s Passing, Larsen reifies blackness but not whiteness.

Reason 1: Larsen reifies blackness because if an individual is black he/she is seen as less humane and worthy.

Evidence & Support: Specific diction in the novella demonstrates how blackness is being reified. When Clare described Claude Jones as “the tall, lanky specimen who used to wear that comical little moustache that the girls used to laugh at so. Like a thin streak of soot.” (pg. 27)., the operative word is “specimen”. The operative word, “specimen”, has a negative connotation because the subject is a person and not an animal, object, or specimen which is typically what specimens are classified as. Clare describing him as being “like a thin streak of soot” (soot being a very dark color) made it seem like Claude was being dehumanized based upon the color of his skin, even if she later clarified that she meant his moustache. There is emphasis on the word “it” when Gertrude states “Why, he actually said he didn’t care what colour it turned out, if I would only stop worrying about it. But no one wants a dark child.” (pg. 26). because she was talking about the baby as if the baby was an unwanted object. Likewise, Irene’s servant was described as a “small mahogany-coloured creature” (pg. 38). The fact that Zulena’s complexion is paired with her being labeled as a creature suggests that she is not human-like because of her dark skin color.

Reason 2: Larsen does not reify whiteness because being white is seen as wanted and worthy.

Evidence & Support: White people are not seen as ‘things’ but rather seen at the top of class and power. All of the white characters in the novella are of status. John Bellew is an international banking agent, Hugh



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