Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Jerry G. Watts

Subject Categories

African American Studies | English Language and Literature


This thesis examines Nella Larsen's novel Passing (1929) and the performative nature of `passing' as white through the perspective of the archetypal trickster myth. I read the novel as a trickster tale that challenges gender roles and the construct of race in defiance of the dominant power structure that defines the American identity. I position the character Clare Kendry Bellew as a trickster figure, who performs an identity to defy race and gender roles. My argument challenges the general theory that black passing novels are solely tragic, and the perception that humor is not a pedagogical tool or representation of culture. My analysis focuses on the trickster as a universal figure, on American opportunism, and on the necessity of performance to attain upward mobility. A trickster reading of the novel and its protagonist provides a method of perceiving the irony and absurdity of racial, gender, and socio-economic constructs.