Passing

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Brian Redfield Character Analysis

Brian is a doctor in New York City and Irene’s husband. Brian is a reserved man who longs to move to Brazil from the United States to escape the country’s dangerous racism. Brian does not enjoy his work as a doctor. His restlessness and desire to move away causes marital issues between him and Irene, who insists that they stay in New York. Unlike his wife, Brian’s skin is dark and he cannot pass as white. Brian, though initially wary of Clare, grows to like her. When Brian invites Clare to a party out of the blue, Irene begins to suspect they are having an affair. The narrative is never clear about whether or not Irene’s suspicions are correct.

Brian Redfield Quotes in Passing

The Passing quotes below are all either spoken by Brian Redfield or refer to Brian Redfield. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Passing published in 2001.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Brian, she was thinking, was extremely good-looking. Not, of course, pretty or effeminate; the slight irregularity of his nose saved him from the prettiness, and the rather marked heaviness of his chin saved him from the effeminacy. But he was, in a pleasant masculine way, rather handsome. And yet, wouldn’t he, perhaps, have been merely ordinarily good-looking but for the richness, the beauty of his skin, which was of an exquisitely fine texture and deep copper color?

Related Characters: Irene Redfield, Brian Redfield
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene is watching Brian read a letter and evaluating his attractiveness. In comparison to Irene’s many drawn-out, lush, and impassioned descriptions of Clare’s beauty, this description of Brian’s attractiveness (the only one in the novel) reads more like a catalogue of traits than a gushing, impulsive admiration. The contrast between Irene’s descriptions of Clare’s and Brian’s beauty serves as more evidence of Irene’s repressed queerness. Moreover, throughout this description, Irene takes note of exactly which features make Brian “not… pretty or effeminate,” suggesting perhaps that Irene pays close attention to gender in evaluating beauty.

Irene also takes note of Brian’s dark skin and suggests that his attractiveness is cemented by his dark coloring. Irene’s appreciation is aesthetic, as she admires its “deep copper color.” But, considering Irene’s commitment to racial justice, Irene’s appreciation might also be political. Irene wants to embrace blackness, which has been dismissed by traditional, racist beauty standards.

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It’s funny about ‘passing.’ We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Brian Redfield
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Irene speaks this quote after she and Brian have moved from talking about Clare’s second letter to discussing the nuances of the phenomenon of passing as white. This quote could almost be taken as the book’s thesis on passing, and it is one of the few moments in the book that gives the reader clarity on the subject.

Irene’s statement expresses the deep ambivalence that the black community feels toward passing. Irene describes the simultaneous feelings of contempt and admiration that passing elicits in black people, and this shows that passing is a fraught but established aspect of the black experience in the United States. Irene’s description of ambivalence towards passing reflects the broader ambivalence that categorizes Irene’s feelings about nearly everything throughout the book—passing, Clare, Brian, etc.

Well, what of it? If sex isn’t a joke, what is it? And what is a joke? …The sooner and the more he learns about sex, the better for him. And most certainly if he learns that it’s a grand joke, the greatest in the world. It’ll keep him from lots of disappointments later on.

Related Characters: Brian Redfield (speaker), Irene Redfield, Brian Junior (Junior)
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Brian speaks this quote as he and Irene drive to the printshop so Irene can print tickets for the Negro Welfare League dance. Irene has just brought up her concern that Junior is learning dirty jokes about sex from the other boys at his school, and Brian, already angry at Irene because of his job frustrations, lashes out at her.

As Brian articulates his frustration with Irene’s worries—asking what her problem is with jokes about sex—Larsen again calls into question the appropriate use of humor. Brian sees “serious” subjects like sex as being compatible with humor, while Irene would like to separate the two. Clearly, the implication of Brian’s statement (that learning that sex is a joke will save Junior from “lots of disappointments later on”) is that Brian’s sex life with Irene is a disappointment. This hurtful comment displays how troubled their marriage is, and Brian’s lack of fulfillment in it.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

Brian. What did it mean? How would it affect her and the boys? The boys! She had a surge of relief. It ebbed, vanished. A feeling of absolute unimportance followed. Actually, she didn’t count. She was, to him, only the mother of his sons. That was all. Alone she was nothing. Worse. An obstacle.

Related Characters: Irene Redfield, Brian Redfield, Brian Junior (Junior), Theodore (Ted)
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene contemplates the potential consequences of Brian and Clare’s alleged affair. She wonders what the affair would mean for her and her children. Upon remembering that she is tied to Brian through their shared offspring, Irene first feels a strong sense of relief. Then, however, this relief dissipates, replaced by a feeling of unimportance. Irene thinks that, to Brian, she is nothing more than the mother of his sons. This passage suggests that, through fulfilling the traditional feminine role of an extremely careful and devoted mother, Irene has lost something of her selfhood, at least in the context of her marriage to Brian. Rather than being connected because of who they each are as people, Irene feels connected to Brian only because of Junior and Ted. This suggests one drawback of motherhood for women: it can potentially eclipse other aspects of life, leaving them hollow.

Did you notice that cup…It was the ugliest thing that your ancestors, the charming Confederates, ever owned…What I’m coming to is the fact that I’ve never figured out a way of getting rid of it until about five minutes ago. I had an inspiration. I had only to break it, and I was rid of it forever. So simple!

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew, Brian Redfield, Hugh Wentworth
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Irene says this to Hugh Wentworth during the tea party at her house. Irene has just begun to suspect that Brian and Clare are having an affair, and as she watches them talk, she becomes so upset that she drops her teacup, which smashes on the floor. When Hugh takes the blame for the cup breaking, Irene assumes—in a somewhat convoluted way—that he does so because he knows that Irene suspects Brian’s infidelity. To try to regain her dignity, Irene makes up the story above.

Irene uses race to cover up her suspicions, saying that the cup was Confederate and implying that that is part of the reason that she thinks that it’s ugly. In this moment Irene, as she often does, is displacing her own emotional reactions by using charged concepts (like race and motherhood) to distract from them or explain them. Although Irene does care a lot about race, as with motherhood, she is clearly willing to use it for her own means, in order to shape how others see her.

Moreover, the cup’s fall, and Irene’s comment that “I had only to break it, and I was rid of it forever,” foreshadow Clare’s fall to death later in the book, and Irene’s possible culpability in it. If there is a parallel between the two, then Larsen may be suggesting that, as with the cup, Irene uses race and motherhood as larger excuses to obscure her personal dislike of Clare. In this moment, the reader sees Irene explicitly narrating her own life in a way that is unreliable, emphasizing the unreliability of the narrative according to Irene’s perspective in general.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

“I want their childhood to be happy and as free from the knowledge of such things as it possibly can be”….

“You know as well as I do, Irene, that it can’t. What was the use of our trying to keep them from learning the word ‘nigger’ and its connotation? They found out, didn’t they? And how? Because somebody called Junior a dirty nigger.”

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Brian Redfield (speaker), Brian Junior (Junior), Theodore (Ted)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

This dialogue takes place as Irene and Brian fight over how best to address racism with their children. Ted has just asked Brian why black people are being lynched and why white people hate black people. This discussion is timely—racist violence and hate crimes were on the rise throughout the country in the 1920s. Irene, however, does not want to address the problem with Ted and Junior, while Brian insists that they must.

Irene wants Ted and Junior’s childhoods to be happy and insulated from the racism that they, being black boys, will inevitably face. Irene consistently values security and the illusion of control over the truth throughout the book, and this is particularly apparent in how Irene parents and in how she screens her own emotions and desires from view as she narrates the story. Brian, on the other hand, insists that they have to address racism with their children, since it will inevitably be a part of their lives. He cites one occasion when they tried to prevent their children from learning the significance of the word “nigger,” and then someone called Junior a “nigger” anyway. This poignant example shows how painful it is to navigate racism when parenting black children in a world that is so hostile to black people. It also shows the pitfalls of Irene’s tendency towards denial.

Drearily she rose from her chair and went upstairs to set about the business of dressing to go out when she would far rather have remained at home. During the process she wondered, for the hundredth time, why she hadn’t told Brian about herself and Felise running into Bellew the day before, and for the hundredth time she turned away from acknowledging to herself the real reason for keeping back the information.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield, Brian Redfield, Felise Freeland
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes how Irene’s mind wanders after her fight with Brian over their parenting choices. Irene’s thoughts stray into ruminating, again, about running into John Bellew with Felise. Irene’s mental state is clearly deteriorating by this point in the book. Whereas before Irene loved to socialize, she now dreads getting dressed and leaving the house.

This description of Irene’s thought process also highlights how deeply unreliable Irene’s perspective is; here, Irene admits to the reader her own tendency to omit thoughts that make her uncomfortable. While the narrator notes that Irene “turned away from acknowledging to herself the real reason” that she didn’t tell Brian about her run-in with John, the book—like Irene—never specifies what those reasons are. However, the reader can probably guess what those reasons might be (complex feelings of contempt and jealousy for Clare, and possibly attraction as well), Irene cannot face her own emotions. This quote reveals Irene to be someone who is deeply repressive of her own impulses and desires.

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Brian Redfield Character Timeline in Passing

The timeline below shows where the character Brian Redfield appears in Passing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
...an hour over their iced teas about Irene’s move to New York with her husband Brian and her two sons. Irene also updates Clare on the status of their old neighbors.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
...husband is dark as well. Irene, though internally furious, responds coolly, telling them her husband Brian cannot “pass.” (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...Irene, since her husband must have so many female patients. Irene responds that her husband, Brian, is more attracted to South America than his female patients. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...back to her life in New York and her family. She worries about her husband Brian, who she feels is restless, and wants to move elsewhere. Irene has tried since the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...she pulls on her stockings, Irene swears to herself not to indulge Clare. Irene’s husband Brian walks into the room, jokingly says that he has caught her swearing, and asks why.... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene finishes getting ready while Brian reads the letter. She fixes her hair in the mirror and dresses. When Irene finishes... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Brian looks up from the letter and asks if Clare is the same girl that Irene... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...into the dining room, where their housekeeper Zulena has laid out breakfast. As they eat, Brian tells Irene that she misunderstood his question as an aggressive one, and explains that he... (full context)
Humor Theme Icon
Brian argues that the story has a humorous side, since they all knew what was going... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...surprise that Clare wants to spend time with her at all, given John’s terrifying racism. Brian cuts her off, saying that he has seen people pass before, and they always return... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...the black community has toward “passing.” She suggests that it is simultaneously condemned and admired. Brian attributes it to biological survival impulses. Irene scoffs at the idea, but does not try... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Irene changes the subject, asking Brian if he would do her a favor and take her to print some tickets for... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
As Brian puts his hat on in the hall, Irene thinks that Brian’s moodiness about his job... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene worries briefly that she actually does not know Brian very well, but then backtracks, assuring herself that she does. Irene tells herself not to... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
In the car, as Brian drives, Irene tells Brian she has been wanting to talk to him about something. Brian... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
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Brian asks Irene if she means ideas about sex, and Irene tells him yes, that Junior... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...extremely angry. Irene then composes herself and, once she’s done printing and back outside, tells Brian she will not go back to the house with him. Instead she will take the... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene, alone, ponders how she will pin Brian down. Her plan had been to suggest sending Junior to a European school and let... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...Ted, play upstairs. Irene thinks about the two boys, saying that Junior is similar to Brian in looks, but to herself in temperament. Ted’s personality, on other hand, is more like... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Since her first attempt to pacify Brian with the botched boarding school trip offer, Irene has become depressed. She worries that Brian... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...does not care about being safe. Irene sits down and tells Clare that she and Brian discussed it, and that they do not think associating with Clare is a good or... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Clare leaves, and Brian calls Irene to tell her he will be home late. Irene is angry that she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...frame of retrospect, the narrator lists events that Irene remembers, starting with when Irene tells Brian about the fact that Clare is coming to the Negro Welfare League dance. Brian smiles... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...coming downstairs just before the dance to find Clare standing in the living room with Brian. Clare wears a black taffeta dress and looks extremely beautiful. Irene feels plain in comparison.... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...at the dance, Irene watches Clare dance with both white and black men, including with Brian. Later in the night, Irene talks with Hugh Wentworth. Together, they are watching the diverse... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
At the end of the dance, Brian offers to drop Irene off first and then take Clare home. Irene tells him he... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Still, Irene does not request that Clare stop coming. Brian seems to tolerate Clare with amusement, and has stopped worrying about the potential danger Clare’s... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Clare sometimes attends social events with Irene and Brian, and occasionally goes with Brian alone if Irene is busy. Clare dines at their house,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...weren’t about to entertain company. Irene goes upstairs and gets into bed. She worries about Brian, who is moody and reserved. Irene cannot read his discontent, and thinks it has to... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene naps, exhausted from many sleepless nights of worrying. She wakes up to Brian standing next to her bed and looking at her. Brian tells Irene that it is... (full context)
Humor Theme Icon
Irene objects to and is surprised by Brian’s comment. Brian says that Hugh has a godly opinion of himself, and Irene dryly corrects... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
...out the clothes she is going to wear and then sits at her dressing table. Brian says nothing and stares at Irene without seeming to really see her. Irene tells Brian... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene says no, but that she’s intelligent enough “in a purely feminine way.” Brian sees this comment as somewhat catty, but Irene objects, saying that no one admires Clare’s... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
After a moment of silence, Brian admits to having invited Clare to the party. Irene is furious, and as she speaks,... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene completely changes her tune and tells Brian she is glad that Clare is coming. Brian returns downstairs. Irene tells him she will... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...entertaining the tea guests so she does not have to think about the possibility that Brian is cheating on her with Clare. The guests make small talk, and Irene responds to... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...Irene tells herself she has plenty of time later to think over her revelation that Brian might be cheating on her. Irene has an impulse to lash out and make a... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...not bored. Irene sees that Hugh is looking scornfully at Clare. Clare is talking with Brian, and as Irene watches them, they remind her again of her suspicion of infidelity. Irene... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene thinks again about the possibility that Brian and Clare are sleeping together, and wonders what will happen to her and the boys... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
...she thinks it is ugly. Irene tells Hugh it was a Confederate cup owned by Brian’s great-great-granduncle. Hugh nods, and Irene wonders if she has convinced him. Irene, forcing herself to... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...that it does not matter as long as no one suspects as she does that Brian and Clare are having an affair. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Although in the previous section Irene thinks that she can live with Brian and Clare’s (unsubstantiated) affair, and it does not matter, the narrator states in this section... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...suspicion. Irene tries to dispel the suspicion from her mind, thinking of the fact that Brian has never cheated on her before, so she should not assume he is doing so... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...happy that it was so busy, because it kept her from thinking too much about Brian and Clare. Irene is also happy that Clare has not been around much because John... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene tells herself that Brian’s behavior is not necessarily because of Clare, but she wishes it were Spring already, when... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Still, Irene plans to tell Brian about running into John. But that evening, each time she has the opportunity to say... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene hears the door open downstairs and knows Brian has gone out. She feels like she is going to cry but cannot. Irene lays... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
The next day, Irene eats breakfast with Brian in near silence. Then she watches the snow falling out the window until Zulena tells... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
After a slow day, Brian, Irene, and their children eat dinner together. Brian tells Irene about a lynching he read... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Brian ignores her, however, and when Ted asks why they hate black people, Brian explains that... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Once the boys have gone back upstairs, Irene tells Brian that she wishes he would not talk about lynching in front of Ted and Junior,... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Brian, however, thinks this is impossible. He reminds Irene of how they tried to keep their... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene asks rhetorically if it is stupid to want her children to be happy. Brian asserts that it is stupid if being happy will impede the children from preparing properly... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Irene sits shivering alone in the dining room, wondering what Brian meant when he said “don’t expect me to give up everything.” She thinks he might... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...[her] out.” Irene, still paranoid about the possibility that Clare is having an affair with Brian, reads Clare’s words as a veiled threat. (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...her thoughts and worries to Clare. She tells Clare to go downstairs and talk to Brian. As Clare gets up and goes downstairs, Irene realizes that it is a good thing... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
At this point, Irene acknowledges that she is completely certain that Clare and Brian are having an affair, and that she is beyond trying to convince herself otherwise. Irene... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
...realized this, and returns to plotting how she can achieve that security and ensure that Brian will stay with her and that they will not move to Brazil. Irene thinks both... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
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Regardless, though, Irene is resolved that she will make sure Brian stays with her, despite the fact that she now wholeheartedly believes Brian and Clare are... (full context)
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After a page break, Brian, Clare, and Irene are arriving at the party at the Freelands’. Brian asks Clare if... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Humor Theme Icon
...walk through the grounds to the building. Irene believes she feels chemistry between Clare and Brian. Irene and Clare each hold onto one of Brian’s arms. Irene points out the entrance,... (full context)
Humor Theme Icon
...once the party is in full swing, describing how Dave and Felise are excellent hosts, Brian is witty (even biting, according to Irene), and Ralph Hazelton is an excellent conversationalist. Irene,... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...knows she is with the Redfields. He tells Felise to stand out of the way. Brian says that he is Redfield, and asks what is wrong with John. John enters the... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...the voices outside. Irene then wonders if she should put on her coat. Irene gathers Brian’s coat and opens the bedroom door. She finds the apartment empty and goes downstairs. (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
...all concluded that she had fainted. Felise leans on Dave, looking sick. Irene walks to Brian, who looks deeply upset. Irene asks if Clare is dead, not managing to completely get... (full context)