The ending of Nella Laren’s Passing is famous for its ambiguity and obscurity; the death of Clare Kendry is never clear defined and vaguely stated. Despite this deliberate equivocation on the author’s part, there is definitive evidence hidden within the text that Clare’s death is in fact a homicide. Clare Kendry’s death was not a suicide; the one person who had constant and progressive reason for the murder Clare was her supposed friend, Irene Redfield.
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One of the main suspects in the death of Clare Kendry is her longtime childhood friend, Irene Redfield. Although they have known each other since they young, they drifted apart as they aged; it had been “… twelve years since she â€¦ had laid eyes on Clare Kendry” (18). It is only through chance that these two were reunited, something that Irene would have rather left unchanged; Irene has repeatedly displayed a increasing desire to break ties with Clare, making many attempts “â€¦ to tell Clare Kendry at once, and definitely, that it was of no use, her coming, â€¦” (64). These tactics ranged from not replying to Clare’s mail or phone calls, though it “â€¦ rung like something possessed” (32) to lying about her schedule and how she is “â€¦ filled upâ€¦ [and]â€¦ so sorry” (23) that her could not be with Clare. Irene could have been avoiding Clare because she is envious of her looks and of how Clare is “â€¦ exquisite, golden, fragrant, [and] flauntingâ€¦ [how]â€¦her glistening hairâ€¦ [and] â€¦ eyes sparking like dark jewels” (74). Irene often “â€¦ felt dowdy and commonplace” (74) when compared to Clare. Another reason Irene wanted Clare to leave her controlled life was that she suspected Clare to be pursuing and infatuating with Brian, Irene’s husband. As time passed, Brian “â€¦ looked on â€¦ with the same tolerant amusement that marked his entire attitude toward Clare” (79). Because of this, Irene often wondered “what did it mean? [and] how it would affect her and the boys?” (93) and often feared that “â€¦ she didn’t count, she was, to him, only the mother of his sons â€¦ [and that] â€¦ she was nothing. Worse. An obstacle” (93). Regardless of Irene’s reasons, her thoughts were steady turning darker, frequently questioning “if Clare should die! Then – Oh, it was vile! To think, yes, to wish that!” (101). During the confrontation at the end of the novel, Clare Smiled a “â€¦ smile that maddened Irene. She ran across the room, her terror fringed with ferocity, and laid a hand on hand on her Clare’s bare arm. [and that] “She couldn’t have her free” (111). This quote showed Irene’s determination and desperation for Clare’s disappearance, yet even though she acted in this murder, she stated that “it was an accident, a terrible accident â€¦ [that] it was.” This phrase confirms Irene’s guilt in this homicide, by the act of denying any fault, solidifies her as the prime suspect in Clare’s murder.
Even though there is substantial evidence the other character had a hand in Clare’s death, she has shown a rather unpredictable and melancholy state of mind; such a state of mind could lead to irrational thoughts such as suicide. She passed for white and abandoned her black heritage for monetary value; she believes that “in fact, all things considered, I think ‘Rene, that it’s even worth the price” (28). Yet Clare feels trapped by her husband, John Bellow’s, racist views; even though she is black herself, John believes Clare to be white. He has made it clear that he “â€¦ [drew] the line at that. No niggers in my family. Never have been and never will be” (40). Despite the fact that she is in such a precarious position, she sought to be with Irene with reckless abandonment “â€¦ to get the things I want badly enough, I’d do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away” (81). Clare continues to visit Irene, requesting to accompany Irene to her various social parties and through her, to the black part of society that Clare abandoned long ago. Yet she “â€¦ would if I could, but I can’t â€¦ you can’t realize how I want to see Negros, to be with them again, to talk with them, to hear them laugh” (71). All of these lead to a volatile mixture of recklessness, desperation, loss of identity, and a sense of being trapped. These could have lead to her eventual suicide, when John Bellow discovered and confronted her about her race:
Clare stood at the window, as composed as if everyone were not staring at her in curiosity and wonder, as if the whole structure of her life were not lying in fragments before her. She seemed unaware of any danger or uncaring. There was even a faint smile on her full, red lips, and in her shining eyes. (111)
This quote exemplifies Clare’s increasing sense of detachment from the world around her; when she was confronted by her husband at the end of the novel, she felt trapped and chose to escape rather the face the reality of her situation.
Yet all of this is merely speculation. The motives and thoughts of Clare Kendry are unknown and can only be interpreted through Irene’s perception of Clare’s actions. On the other hand, Irene’s mental process it often displayed through her own narrations and has show on numerous occasions to have entertained the idea of ridding herself of Clare.
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