Summary: Part Three: Chapter Four

A snowstorm lasts all the next day. Over dinner, Brian and Ted discuss a lynching reported in the newspaper. Irene objects that the boys should not be told about lynchings until they are older. Brian calls her view stupid. If she will not let him take the family someplace safer than “this hellish place,” he can at least prepare them for the realities they will face. “Don’t make me give up everything,” he says. Irene interprets his words to be not just about where the family lives but about Brian’s relationship with Clare.

Clare arrives. She is joining the Redfields at a party hosted by the Freelands, in their top-floor residence. Clare explains that she can come only because her husband had to run down to Philadelphia. Remarking that Philadelphia is not very far away, Irene asks what Clare would do if her husband learned she was Black. Clare replies that she would come live in Harlem. She would do so now, Clare says, except for Margery. “She’s all that holds me back. But if Jack finds out, if our marriage is broken, that lets me out.” For Irene, these words from Clare bring several things into focus. Irene concludes that Brian and Clare have been having an affair, she is determined to protect her family and their life against the threat Clare represents, and she is glad she kept her accidental encounter with Bellew to herself. Irene decides that her best chance of keeping Clare tied to Bellew until the Bellews leave for Europe is to do nothing that would disturb the current state of things.

Clare and the Redfields arrive at the Freelands. The conversation is lively, but Irene does not enjoy herself. She has displeased at how Clare and Brian look at each other. Irene opens a large vertical window for some fresh air. The party is violently interrupted when the doorbell rings and the new arrival turns out to be John Bellew. He pushes his way into the gathering and confronts Clare. Using the N-word, he snarls, “So you’re a _____.” Felise steps in: “Careful. You’re the only white man here.” Clare stands by the open window, looking completely unconcerned and smiling faintly. Angered by the smile, Irene rushes to Clare and puts her hand on Clare’s arm. Clare falls out of the window. Bellew reacts with shock and sudden grief, calling out to Clare, but using his offensive nickname for her instead of “Clare.”

Irene stays behind while everyone else rushes downstairs. She is not sorry that Clare is gone, but she is not able to reconstruct what happened. “What would the others think? That Clare had fallen? That she had deliberately leaned backward? Certainly one or the other. Not—” Irene cannot bring herself to think that she might have pushed Clare. “It was an accident, a terrible accident,” she mutters. Finally, she makes her way downstairs. Some official is asking questions of those gathered around Clare’s body. One partygoer says that Clare appeared to have just fainted and tumbled out the window. “You’re sure she fell?” the official asks. “Her husband didn’t give her a shove, or anything like that, as Dr. Redfield seems to think?” Suddenly noticing that Bellew is nowhere in sight, Irene speaks up. “No, no!” she says. “She just fell, before anybody could stop her.” After what seems like centuries, she hears the official conclude that the death was probably an accident.

Analysis: Part Three: Chapter Four

The setting of the final chapter of the novel forms a parallel bookend with the early scene at the Drayton. Both scenes take place on the top floors of buildings. In the case of the Drayton, the world below is hot and chaotic, and the rooftop is set as a cool and serene world of elegance and white segregation. In it, the passing women are unnoticed intruders. The novel ends with an inversion of this symbolism. The characters walk through a snow-covered garden as they approach the Freelands’ building for the party. The snow serves as a metaphor for the dangers of whiteness. Brian’s reminder to Irene and Clare to stay on the walk symbolically implies both that the white world will hurt them and that they do not belong there. While the Drayton’s ease begins with an elevator ride, the Freelands’ guests must climb six flights of stairs. The symbolism suggests that in the Black world, a good life is earned through hard work. When they arrive, Irene finds the apartment too hot, suggesting symbolically that however rarified the world they have arrived in, a Black-only space cannot have the sense of tranquility the white-only Drayton offers. This time the intruder, Bellew, is white, and with no attempt to blend in, he destroys the peace of the party. 

Irene’s actions of opening the window for cool air and tossing the end of her cigarette out is one of many instances that foreshadow Clare’s fall. For example, early in the book, Clare is always stepping “on the edge of danger.” Later, Irene drops and breaks an antique teacup when she is angry with Clare. At this final party, Irene watches the spark of her cigarette fall onto the white ground moments before Bellew’s intrusion and Clare’s fall from the open window. Larsen describes Clare in terms that make clear the symbolic connection to the cigarette. She is “a vital glowing thing, like a flame of red and gold.” While the novel does not make clear whether Clare fell on her own or was pushed by Irene, the fire metaphor connects her to Irene’s discarded cigarette. Additionally, in a moment of fresh anger, Irene has once again played a part in the destruction of something beautiful and unwanted.