“Money’s awfully nice to have. In fact, all things considered, I think, ‘Rene, that it’s even worth the price.”

When Clare finds Irene at the Drayton, in Part One, Chapter Two, Clare asks Irene if she has ever considered passing. Larsen uses this moment to point out a potential reward of passing. Irene states she has everything she wants without passing, except perhaps a little more money. She means this as a light comment. Irene leads a very comfortable life in Harlem high society, while living openly as Black. However, for Clare, passing has meant the difference between wealth and poverty. As a young Black girl, Clare was first a janitor’s daughter and then the unpaid maid of her white aunts, who saw her Blackness as religious justification for mistreatment. As the apparently white wife of Bellew, she is rewarded for taking the risk of passing with a life of transatlantic voyages and luxury hotels. Irene’s class privilege makes it easy for her to see only the risks of passing. Clare lives with both the risks and the rewards. 

“I nearly died of terror the whole nine months before Margery was born for fear that she might be dark. Thank goodness, she turned out all right. But I'll never risk it again. Never! The strain is simply too—too hellish.”

In Part One, Chapter Three, when Irene and Gertrude visit Clare at her hotel, Clare and Gertrude talk about their shared fear during pregnancy that their babies would be born with dark skin, one of the many risks of passing. In Clare’s case, the risk is straightforward: Bellew does not know she is Black, and having a dark-skinned baby would reveal her secret. Gertrude’s white husband and in-laws know she is Black. Giving birth to a dark-skinned baby would not threaten her marriage, but it would nevertheless jeopardize her social standing in her neighborhood and perhaps hurt her husband’s business. The risks of having children who are too dark to pass lead Gertrude to comment that “nobody wants a dark child,” but Larsen makes clear elsewhere in the text that Irene, who has one child with dark skin and one with lighter skin, finds Brian’s dark skin beautiful. Larsen suggests in this way that the risks of passing have caused Gertrude to associate dark skin with danger to the point of rejecting Blackness even more than her white family does.

“At that, Irene, who was still hugging her unhappy don't-care feeling of rightness, broke in, saying bitingly: ‘It evidently doesn't occur to either you or Gertrude that he might possibly be sincere in changing his religion. Surely everyone doesn't do everything for gain.’”

When Gertrude tells the story of Claude Jones to Irene and Clare during their visit together in Part One, Chapter Three, she and Clare laugh at the idea that passing as Jewish might be an easier life for him than living as Black. Larsen suggests through their response that deciding to make the bargain of risk and reward that passing represents has left them unable to view his decision in different terms. In this moment, Irene feels defensive of her dark husband and son and of her own decision to live as Black. She uses her comment about Jones’s unknown motives as an opportunity to tacitly take issue with the advantages Clare and Gertrude have claimed by passing. Clare understands her intended slight, but Gertrude does not. Through this distinction, Larsen suggests that while Clare’s decision to pass is in fact motivated by a desire for the rewards passing gives her, Gertrude’s is less sophisticated. She may benefit from passing, but she passes as part of a middle-class life with a husband she has known since childhood. Her passing, like Irene’s imagination of Jones’s, is in that sense more sincere and less calculated than Clare’s.