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Book Club Wed May 06 2009

Passing Discussion Questions

Below are the questions we'll use to discuss Nella Larsen's Passing. Join us next Monday, May 11, to discuss the book in person at the Book Cellar at 7:30pm. I'm looking forward to hearing all of your thoughts!

  • What are your first impressions of Clare when she is described at the hotel having tea? What does this tell you about how Irene views Clare?
  • What is Irene's first impression of Clare when they reunite at tea? Why is Irene hesitant to spend more time with Clare after this meeting? What does this tell you about Irene's character?
  • Why does Clare decide to pass as white? Why does Irene decide not to pass? Is Irene interested in learning about Clare's life or does she disapprove of her choices?
  • What do the women's husbands tell us about them and what they value? Why did Clare decide to marry a white man and not reveal her racial background? What effect do you think this will have on her daughter? Why did Irene marry a black man with a dark complexion? What effect do you think this has on her sons?
  • What role does Gertrude play in the story? How is the author using her to express another view of "passing"? Is this view similar to or different from the ones expressed by Irene and Clare?
  • After meeting Clare's husband, Irene regrets not speaking out against his racist remarks. Why did she keep quiet in the moment and why does she regret it later? Is it concern for Clare or is it a failing in her own confidence?
  • Why does Clare begin to insert herself into Irene's life? What are her motivations and how does Irene react to these actions?
  • What causes Irene to become suspicious of her husband and Clare? Are her suspicions merited or is it merely her own insecurities? What interest might Irene's husband have in Clare?
  • What do you think happened at the end of the story? Did Clare jump out the window? Did Irene push her? Was it an accident? What effect does the author's ambiguity regarding this final scene have on your interpretation of the story?
  • What is the theme of this story? What is the author trying to say about race and the society she lived in? Do you find it an effective way to discuss the ideas and problems of race?
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