Summary: Part Two: Chapter Two

Irene delays answering Clare’s letter and finally decides not to reply at all. In the evening, as Irene sits by the fire and worries about her husband’s latest expression of discontent, Clare arrives, uninvited. Irene, despite her irritation, feels a rush of positive feeling and greets Clare warmly. However, when Clare asks why Irene has not replied to her letter, Irene explains that it would not be safe for Clare to be seen with the Redfields, or with other Black people in Harlem where they live. Clare bitterly dismisses the safety concern and speaks tearfully of her lonely situation. Irene softens and feels sympathetic, but she reminds Clare of the risk to Margery, now twelve, and to Clare’s relationship with her.

The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from a friend of Irene’s, the famous white author Hugh Wentworth. He and his wife want to attend the benefit dance. Clare knows of Wentworth, and now that she knows of the event, she desperately wants to attend, too. She is not worried about running into anyone who would recognize her. Irene at first firmly refuses, but when Clare again declares her loneliness and her desire to be with people of her race, Irene relents. After meeting the two boys, Clare leaves. Brian phones that he is having dinner in town. Again alone with her thoughts, Irene reflects that Brian will be annoyed, after he asked her to stay away from Clare. She thinks of all the trouble, and all the possibilities for trouble, that Clare’s presence at the benefit will create. Irene marvels at Clare’s ability to get her way.

Analysis: Part Two: Chapter Two

The necessity of taking risks for happiness is apparent in the conversation between Clare and Irene. Throughout the chapter, Clare takes risks Irene disapproves of in order to be in the company of other Black people. Irene repeatedly reminds Clare of how her behavior puts her at risk, but Clare is more willing to accept danger than loneliness. Although Clare does take some measures to keep Jack from discovering her racial identity, including waiting until he leaves town to visit Irene, Irene believes that Clare coming to visit her at all is too great a risk. That risk of exposure, in Irene’s view, makes the barrier between them even more significant than it would be if Clare were actually white. For Clare, however, seeing Irene is worth the danger. When Clare asks to attend the Negro Welfare League dance, Irene sees only the risk to Clare. Clare, however, longs to socialize with Black people. Although Irene reminds Clare that her behavior also endangers her daughter, even she admits that there is no way in life to be completely safe. In this scene, Larsen shows that Clare’s happiness depends on accepting danger. 

Irene’s sense of responsibility contrasts with Clare and others’ desire for pleasure. For Irene, the Negro Welfare League dance is a form of labor. It is one of the many forms of charitable work she does to improve the lives of Black people. Irene describes the event in terms of her organizational efforts and never with regard to the joys of attending a party. For Clare, the dance sounds entertaining, as it does to the many other white people who attend and view Black culture as a novelty. Irene accepts the charity of white people in order to uplift the Black people of Harlem. She understands, however, that the dance is an opportunity for white people to be amused during an infrequent intermingling of races. In Clare’s insistence in attending the dance, Larsen places Clare’s desire to serve only her own pleasure in the category of whiteness in contrast to Irene’s sense of duty to the larger Black community.