Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Passing is set in the 1920s, before the Supreme Court declared "separate but equal" facilities for nonwhites unconstitutional. What privileges are Irene Redfield denied as a black person? What do men and women gain by passing?
2. In Part One, Irene has tea with Gertrude and Clare, her two childhood friends. Compare the attitudes each woman has toward passing. To what degree does each pass for white?
3. Passing presents two women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, who make very different choices yet whose lives intertwine in startling ways. Compare the characters of each. What are each woman’s strengths? Her weaknesses? What are each woman’s attitudes toward race? How do these attitudes influence the novel’s plot?
4. Consider Irene’s fear that Brian and Clare may be having an affiar. Does her anxiety seem reasonable to you? Why, or why not?
5. Compare different characters’ attitudes toward sexuality. For instance, in what ways are Irene’s and Clare’s thoughts on sex similiar? How are they different? How might these attitudes be related to each character’s thoughts on race?
6. Discuss the novel’s ending. Do you think Irene pushed Clare? What evidence does the novel offer either for or against this interpretation?
7. Certain critics have suggested that an erotic attachment exists between Irene and Clare. Do you agree with this reading? What evidence can you find in the novel to support this idea?