Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Renee Schatteman - Co-Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Pearl McHaney - Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Dr. Audrey Goodman


Acts of “passing” inform the plots of Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light and Nella Larsen’s Passing. Examples of contemporary South African fiction and Harlem Renaissance fiction respectively, these texts explore racial passing and its correlative, social passing. Social passing includes enactment of social relationships, responds to class anxieties, and requires repression of emotions as participating characters attempt to fix their performed roles into permanent identities. At issue are the texts’ multiple enactments of passing with special interest paid to these acts’ constitutive theatricality. Characters perform within narrative settings, locations subsequently deconstructed exposing both implicit and explicit theatrical functions. Threshold spaces of doors and windows form frames within settings, focusing the audience’s gaze and simultaneously creating and dismantling private and public places to reconstitute them as theater. This study culminates in reflections on the tension between the relative freedom and containment of characters that pass.