Summary: Part Two: Chapter Three

On the day of the dance, Clare arrives at the Redfield home in a spectacular ball gown. Irene feels underdressed by comparison. She notices that Brian is more pleased than annoyed by Clare’s attention-grabbing appearance. At the event, Clare dances with many men, but more with Black men than white men, and often with Brian. After a while, Irene sits down to chat with Wentworth. They discuss how white women are sometimes strangely attracted to dark-skinned Black men, and how hard it can be to distinguish white women from light-skinned Black women passing for white. Irene asks the Wentworths to give Clare a ride back to her hotel, so Brian will not have to do it.

Summary: Part Two: Chapter Four

After the benefit dance, Clare becomes a regular visitor at the Redfield home. She can do this because her daughter is attending school in Switzerland and her husband is often away on business. The boys grow very fond of Clare. She befriends the Redfields’ two servant girls. Irene disapproves of Clare’s lack of social boundaries but says nothing. Brian looks on with tolerant amusement and, in response to Irene’s questions, insists that he does not find Clare especially attractive. Others in their social circle find Clare pleasant company. Irene’s worries about Clare’s secret being discovered gradually fade. Next spring, however, the Bellews will be going back to Europe. Clare complains about the prospect, even after Irene reminds her that it will mean being reunited with Margery. Irene has been too kind, Clare says, even though Clare is a selfish creature who will hurt other people to get what she wants. Clare begins to cry openly.

Analysis: Part Two: Chapters Three–Four

In this scene, Larsen deepens her exploration of the theme of beauty by considering the ways in which racial taboos complicate attraction. As Irene and Wentworth discuss dark-skinned Ralph Hazelton, whom white women find attractive, Irene offers a more sophisticated analysis of the forces at play than Wentworth is privy to. This differential extends the pattern in the book of Black people having greater insight into race than white people do. By noting that the white women find Ralph beautiful because he represents an inversion of their expectations of beauty, Irene points out that what the white women are responding to is the shock of something so strange it is almost repugnant. They desire him because he is the polar opposite of what the world has told them to desire. Clare and Jack’s relationship is not mentioned in this scene, but Irene notes that the same dynamic can exist when Black women are attracted to white men.  While admiration and disgust seem to be opposed ideas, this scene suggests that the catalyst of racial barriers can make those feelings have the same paradoxical effect.