Eugenics, Passing, Nella Larsen, New Negro Womanhood, Harlem Renaissance


This article looks at Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing and examines how eugenic ideology of the time period are explored and critiqued through the story and characters. The novel follows two light skinned black women who grew up together and are reunited as adults. This reconciliation takes place under the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance where the expectations of New Negro womanhood mix with a growing wave of eugenic thought and practices. In the 1920’s many influential thinkers, including black leaders such as W. E.B. Du Bois, were convinced that the only way to move the human race forward was to dictate or control who could and could not have children. In the novel Passing Nella Larsen uses the characters of Irene and Claire to demonstrate the contradictions inherent in eugenic thought. Though Passing illuminates the problematic nature of eugenics, it ultimately leaves no solution or fix in the mind of the reader.



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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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