In Passing, Nella Larsen suggest through the word “mother,” that motherhood hinders Irene’s ability to be with Clare, which is important because it shows how motherhood constrains the sexuality of Irene. In the story, both Clare and Irene are mothers and want to be together, but are unable to because of things like race and gender expectations. Along with these things, motherhood also hindered their ability to form a romantic relationship. In an essay that focuses on the relationship between Clare and Irene, Claudia Tate says that Irene is “confined to a shell of artificial weakness,” (599). This artificial weakness that Tate is discussing is how Irene uses social events to show off her wits, and play into her gender expectations. Irene, is a mother and because she is a mother, it forces her to conform to social norms and conventional thinking. She says that mothers are “responsible for the security and happiness” of their children. This explains how mothers are not allowed to have lives of their own or to be responsible for their own happiness. Understanding this idea, Irene tells Clare that it’s irresponsible to do anything else but to be a mother first. This emphasizes how motherhood specifically, confines Irene’s sexuality. It forces her to fall into a motherly role in the sphere of domesticity, which would satisfy her gender expectations. Ultimately, this repression of sexual feelings because of her motherly role leaves her feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Being a mother definitely forces Irene to repress her sexual feelings in lieu of taking care of her family. The motherly role constrains Irene’s sexuality and her ability to truly express how she feels about Clare.
Tate, Claudia. “Nella Larsen’s Passing: A Problem of Interpretation.” African American Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 2017, pp. 597–601.
Larsen, Nella. The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and the Stories. Edited by Charles R. Larson, Anchor Books, 2001