It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little
pile of morning mail.
This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger.
There had been, even in those days of their childhood, nothing sacrificial in Clare Kendry's idea of life. She was selfish, and cold, and hard. And yet she had, too, a strange capacity of transforming warmth and passion, verging sometimes almost on theatrical heroics.
Catlike, that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her.
Sometimes she was hard and apparently without feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive.
And there was about her an amazing soft malice, hidden well away until provoked.
Then she was capable of scratching, and very
effectively too. Or, driven to anger, she would
fight with a ferocity and impetuousness that
disregarded or forgot any danger; superior strength, numbers, or other unfavorable circumstances.
Clare seemed certainly to have succeeded in having a few of the things that she wanted. She had never been exactly one of the group, just as she'd never been merely the janitor's daughter.
And now, after twelve years, Clare was in the city and she wanted to meet her childhood friend Irene.
They were both light-skinned black women and during the Harlem Renaissance, they both can “pass” for white",.
Irene told Clare about her marriage and removal to New York, about her husband, a successful African-American doctor and about her two sons. One of her boys was dark.
She underlined that she passed only when it was appropriate, when she needed to enjoy certain amenities of the society that should be afforded to all races but were denied black people. Her passing was a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”.
But, while Irene was proud of her background and her family, Clare was determined to get away, to be a person and not a charity or a problem, or even a daughter of the indiscreet Ham. She wanted things. She knew she wasn't bad-looking and that she could 'pass' and she
Clare didn't have to explain where she came from, it wasn't necessary.
Yes, Clare Kendry's loveliness was absolute, beyond challenge, thanks to those eyes which her grandmother and later her mother and father had given her. They were Negro eyes, mysterious and concealing.
Clare had married a successful white businessman and had one daughter.
Her husband was a racist and he hated Negros.
It was hard to believe that even Clare Kendry permitted that ridiculing of her race by an outsider,though he chanced to be her husband.
He didn't know that Clare was a Negro.
"No niggers in my family. Never have been and never will be." he said.
But Clare Kendry cared nothing for the race. She only belonged to it.
Since childhood Clare and Irene's lives had never really touched. Actually they were strangers. Strangers in their ways and means of living. Strangers in their desires and ambitions. Strangers even in their racial consciousness. Between them the barrier was just as high, just as broad.
But after having met Clare again, Irene was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race ! The thing that bound and suffocated her.
Whatever steps she took, or if she took none
at all, something would be crushed. A person
or the race. Clare, herself, or the race.
Sitting alone in the quiet living-room in the pleasant fire-light, Irene Redfield wished, for the first time In her life, that she had not been born a Negro. For the first time she suffered and rebelled because she was unable to disregard the burden of race. It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, an individual, on one's own account, without having to suffer for the race as well. It was a brutality, and undeserved.
Then came a thought which she tried to
drive away. If Clare should die ! Then — Oh,
it was vile! To think, yes, to wish that! She
" felt faint and sick. But the thought stayed with her. She could not get rid of it.
She laid there awake, thinking of things
past. Of her courtship and marriage and her children's birth.
And now Clare Kendry had come into her life, and with her the menace of impermanence and her menace to her husband.
Two girls in the interbellum in the USA. Both could pass for white, but only one does. The consequence is giving up everything and everyone she knows, because her husband is a racist of the worst kind. She is flighty and sentimental though, and a hankering after her roots makes her look up her old friend, who has a high position in elite black society. This is the most dangerous thing she could ever do, because what will happen if her husband finds out she is that Most Hated Being; a Negro?
Great book. The love-hate relationship of the two main characters, their jealousy and intimacy, and the way they both fit into their own world, makes for a deep and insightful novel....Continua