300-600 words reading response to Nella Larsen’s Passing

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Considered a landmark novel of the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen’s Passing isn’t really a novel about New York City, we might say. On the surface, it looks like a novel about the complex entanglements between Irene and Clare that tells a story set against the backdrop of cities like Chicago and NYC—cities that were profoundly reshaped by the Great Migration. What happens if we think about the American city–and the Harlem, NYC neighborhood in particular—as more than just a ‘setting’ for Larsen’s novel? How does the city shape and influence the characters, and how do the characters shape and influence the city? In this week’s discussion, we’ll think about the dynamic relationship between the city-space and the characters in Passing.

In your post, discuss one specific scene or piece of dialogue that you think helps us better understand the dynamic relationship between Larsen’s characters and their city setting. You might consider the following questions (but don’t worry about answering them all):

  • What does this scene/moment suggest about who can move and ‘pass’ in the city, and how?
  • What does the scene/moment suggest about the racialization process–the process by which racial identities are ascribed to characters in the novel?
  • What does the scene/moment suggest about problems of mobility—physical, economic, and social—within the city?

Before you make your initial post, read over your classmates’ posts and plan to extend, engage, or complicate the conversation that’s developing. Try to connect us to an undiscussed passage if possible, and if you choose to highlight a passage that’s already been discussed in this thread, be sure that you help us notice and interpret something new about the passage.

In your initial post, be sure to analyze specific textual details from the scene or piece of dialogue. (The initial post due Thursday should be 300-600 words.)

In addition to making your post by Thursday, remember to read over your colleagues’ posts and respond to at least two by Saturday.

Due Dates

  • Post your response to the discussion prompt by Thursday 11:59pm PDT.
  • Respond to two students’ posts by Saturday 11:59pm PDT.


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Cathy, CS.