Summary: Part Three: Chapter Two

Over Christmas, as Irene reflects on what happened, she realizes she has no solid evidence of an affair between Brian and Clare. Irene largely convinces herself that she was wrong to suspect Brian of being unfaithful. His dark and distant mood continues, but Irene interprets this as just the latest expression of the restlessness she has observed over the years. With Bellew back in New York after a long stay in Canada, Clare no longer visits the Redfields. Still, Irene wants Clare out of the city and thereby completely out of their lives. She does not want to wait even another few months. Irene considers telling Bellew about his wife’s Harlem visits, but she cannot bring herself to act on that thought. For the first time in her life, Irene resents being Black, bound by loyalty to protect the secrets of other Black people. She will not betray Clare, but she does hope that Clare’s secret comes out.

Summary: Part Three: Chapter Three

The next day, Irene is downtown, out walking arm in arm with a darker-skinned friend, Felise Freeland. By chance, they run into Bellew. He greets Irene pleasantly, but then, seeing that her companion is Black, he realizes that Irene must be, too. Felise is amused to have caught Irene “passing,” but Irene is irritated that she did not take the opportunity to introduce Bellew as “Clare’s husband.” Her loyalty to her race again got in the way. She thinks of informing Clare of the meeting, but she has no safe way to do so. She intends to tell Brian about the incident, but something holds her back. She begins to think about what may happen next. It would be disastrous, from Irene’s point of view, if Bellew divorced Clare, leaving Clare a free woman. It would be ideal if Clare were to die, somehow. Thinking of the threat Clare represents to her pleasant family existence, Irene falls asleep.

Analysis: Part Three: Chapters Two–Three

When Irene and Felice meet Bellew on the street, Larsen returns to the metaphor of a face as a mask and continues to develop the theme of disguise and secrecy. The first time this metaphor appears it refers to Clare at the Drayton and her mask is “ivory.” This description suggests Clare’s disguise behind the world of whiteness, and this mask obscures her even from Irene. In this later instance of metaphor, Irene’s face becomes a mask with which she attempts to hide her thoughts from Bellew. Throughout the novel, Larsen shows that for light-skinned characters, their company can serve either as a disguise or an admission. When Bellew first met Irene, she was with two women he believes to be white. This time she is with the darker-skinned Felice, and Bellew’s facial expressions potentially reveal his understanding that he has now seen behind the mask. In presenting Bellew with a distant and chilly mask of expression, Irene makes a vital attempt to keep Clare’s secret and protect her own marriage by keeping Clare’s intact.