The Women of Brewster Place depicts seven courageous black women struggling to survive life's harsh realities. Since the book was first published in 1982, critics have praised Gloria Naylor's characters. They contend that her vivid portrayal of the women, their relationships, and their battles represents the same intense struggle all human beings face in their quest for long, happy lives. For example, in a review published in Freedomways, Loyle Hairston says that the characters "... throb with vitality amid the shattering of their hopes and dreams." Many commentators have noted the same deft touch with the novel's supporting characters; in fact, Hairston also notes, "Other characters are ... equally well-drawn."
Most critics consider Naylor one of America's most talented contemporary African-American authors. Her success probably stems from her exploration of the African-American experience, and her desire to "... help us celebrate voraciously that which is ours," as she tells Bellinelli in the interview series, In Black and White. She stresses that African Americans must maintain their identity in a world dominated by whites. Hairston, however, believes Naylor sidesteps the real racial issues. In his Freedomways review, he says of The Women of Brewster Place: "Naylor's first effort seems to fall in with most of the fiction being published today, which bypasses provocative social themes to play, instead, in the shallower waters of isolated personal relationships."