The Unarticulated Unseen: Britt Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” and Her Intent on Revealing the Unseen in the Tradition of Racial Passing
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Cameron Bushnell
Dr. Maria Bose
Dr. Maya Hislop
Throughout the trajectory of passing literature, there have been varying projections of racial identity as it is intertwined with choice and power. Despite the many commonalities between the archetypal passing novel, the differences in the way that passing is demarcated in various novels is indicative of the racial climate out of which it came. This paper considers Britt Bennett’s 2020 novel, The Vanishing Half, as a socio-political artifact of an allegedly post-racial era. In considering Bennett’s novel as a reflection of post-raciality, a comparative study incorporating Nella Larsen’s Passing, Douglas Sirk’s Adaptation of Imitation of Life, and Danzy Senna’s Caucasia, conclude that, though the characteristics of racial passing might appear different across the 20th and 21st centuries, racial passing is still a privilege-incentivized act which necessitates the passer exhibit agency as much as it does abandonment of the Self. In this paper, Bennett’s character, Stella Sanders, is analyzed in terms of her desire and resulting attainment of a life in which she passes as white, and what this desire denotes about a society in which the benefits of being white surpass the pain of sacrificing her own blackness. I argue that, although the “opportunity” to pass is initially presented to Stella as a presumption of racial identity on behalf of white people, Bennett writes Stella’s passing as walking a grey line between an identity that she chooses for herself and an identity that is assigned, making the act itself far-more complicated than many of Bennett’s predecessors have been able to articulate.
Maas Rue, Caroline, "The Unarticulated Unseen: Britt Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” and Her Intent on Revealing the Unseen in the Tradition of Racial Passing" (2022). All Theses. 3772.
African American Studies Commons, American Literature Commons, Literature in English, North America Commons, Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority Commons