It is very unfortunate that we only have precious few works by Larsen to enjoy. Chief among them, of course, are the novels Quicksand and Passing. Quicksand, which is a great book, is longer and more complex (and well worth the read), but Passing is a condensed jewel of a book. And scandalous! It's almost inappropriate to describe a work by the masterful Larsen as "juicy", but that it is. Set in early Twentieth Century Harlem, the story focuses on Irene Redfield, the wife of a fairly affluent (albeit discontent) doctor and mother of two boys. All is more or less well until the reintroduction of the beautiful and bewitching Claire Kennedy into Irene's life. Although both Irene and Claire are of African-American heritage, both can "pass" for white and Larsen explores this idea thoroughly. But "passing" is the theme of the book, both in the obvious and non-obvious...
Since many people at this point have already read, or know of the plot involved in Passing, I will skip over this and discuss what makes the Norton Critical edition important.
Many books that offer case studies in criticism are inconsistent. These books contain analytical approaches to reading the novel at hand, however, most fail to create a deeper understanding of the novel. On the downside of this volume, none of these approaches stand out; on the upside, there really isn't a weak entry in this book. I have read many of the "Norton Critical Edition" collection, and this is by far one of the best I've read.
Similarly, many of the short stories within this critical edition are interesting and help the reader better understand the novel "Passing". Although they can be avoided altogether, I would recommend reading a few of them for general enjoyment and better understanding of the novel. Some well written examples of short stories within the collection: "The...
This novel tells the story of two women with black and white genetic inheritance in the 1920s, both of whom spend their childhood in a black culture. One chooses to leave that culture behind (because it is so socioeconomically limiting to her); the other embraces the community as an adult. But this story is about much more than "passing" as white. It is also a story about what living in a certain economic class in the U.S. does to your possibilities for "success." Both these women are of mixed race and yet the U.S. society of that time placed anyone with any quantum of black heritage in the black culture group, denied equal rights and equal treatment. This disparity is made prominent in the character of one of these women's husband. It's a book that we can see reflected in some U.S. subcultures, even today. It is a timely book in 2014-2015.
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