The Liminality of Irene Redfield: A Reading of Ambiguous Identity in Nella Larsen’s Passing

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In many scholars' readings of Nella Larsen's Harlem Renaissance novel, Passing, Clare Kendry has been read as a character whose ambiguous and liminal identity poses a threat to Irene Redfield. This interpretation argues that it is Irene's own liminal identity that scares her, and Clare sudden appearance in her life was the spark that made her conscious of that fear. Driven into a manic state, Irene kills Clare, pushing her out of a window, a liminal space. Reading the novel in this way suggests that Larsen cannot not imagine an instance, even within this fictional setting, that would allow these women to remain in their liminal spaces within their segregated and homophobic society.


Winner of the 2016 Library Award for Undergraduate Research.