In her novel Passing Nella Larsen wrote down the story of two African-American women with a similar background who chose very different, even opposite strategies to play the game of life in Chicago during the 1920s. In the beginning Clare and Irene, who haven’t seen each other for years, meet by chance in an elegant restaurant closed to African-Americans. Clare’s life as a white woman leaves Irene with conflicting feelings. She clearly disapproves of Clare’s choice, but at the same time she is fascinated. To reconnect Clare with the black community Irene invites her to a dance. Thereafter Irene sees her identity as an African-American even more challenged and that as a woman, too, when Clare and her husband are beginning an affair later on. At last, Irene is driven to put a violent end to the mess that Clare caused.
The key issue that Nella Larsen addresses in Passing is the search for identity as an individual, black or white, woman or man, low or high.