Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Naylor began her celebration of black women’s lives with The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories. Exhibiting the varied backgrounds and experiences of seven different women, the seven stories of its subtitle can be read separately, but they are united by their setting and by characters who reappear from one story to the next. The stories also perform a kind of counterpoint to one another, with various parallels and contrasts. However varied the courses of their lives have been, the women now share a common fate: They have all arrived at the dead-end ghetto of Brewster Place, not only a racial and socioeconomic enclave but also a dumping ground for used women.
Mattie Michael, the motherly figure on the block, grew up in Tennessee and arrived on Brewster Place via repeated betrayals by the men in her life. During her youth, one weak moment in a basil patch with the sweet-talking Butch left her pregnant, for which her father brutally beat her and kicked her out. Finding refuge first with her friend Etta Mae Johnson and then in the home of another woman, Eva Turner, Mattie devoted her life to raising and pampering her son, Basil. Basil eventually repaid her by killing a man in a tavern brawl and, after Mattie posted her house for bail, skipping town. Minus son and home, Mattie also left town and headed for Brewster Place, located in a bleak northern city resembling Brooklyn, where she feels a sense of cultural dislocation on top of her other losses.
What brings Mattie to Brewster Place specifically is a remaining personal tie there to Lucielia Louise Turner, or “Ciel,” the granddaughter of Eva Thiner, to whom Mattie is a mother in all but name. Mattie’s presence and support are needed, because Ciel’s life is devastated by her boyfriend Eugene, who is absent for long stretches and abusive when he is around. Eugene makes Ciel terminate her second pregnancy with an...
(The entire section is 783 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Women of Brewster Place is an unusual novel because of its structure. It consists of a prefatory Langston Hughes poem, a prologue (“Dawn”) and epilogue (“Dusk”), six stories featuring a character through whose eyes readers see the action unfold, and a seventh story, “The Block Party,” that brings many of the characters together in the violent destruction of a wall. The destruction, which occurs only in Mattie’s dream, is followed by a short description of the day of the block party. Naylor has described the book as a collection of interconnected short stories, but they do form a novel. The short stories, which are connected by recurring characters, concern the principal characters who come together for Mattie’s dream about the block party.
“Mattie Michaels,” the first story, concerns her seduction by Butch Fuller, by whom she becomes pregnant; her beating by her father when she will not identify Butch as the father of her child; and her betrayal by Basil, her son, who skips bail, costing her the house she had put up for bond. The story, however, also concerns Eva Turner, her benefactor; Lucielia Turner, who is reared with Basil; and Etta Mae Johnson, her friend in Rock Vale, Tennessee, and in Brewster Place. Mattie’s story concerns the events that led her to Brewster Place, and Etta’s story provides a short summary of her life, including a series of affairs, flight from the law, and her drive to Brewster Place in a stolen car. It focuses on her abortive romance with the Reverend Moreland Woods and the disillusioned aftermath....
(The entire section is 643 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Gloria Naylor’s first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, won the American Book Award for First Fiction in 1983 and was made into a film. Actually a novel in seven stories, it presents a series of interconnected tales about seven women who struggle to make peace with their pasts. The allegorical setting is Brewster Place, a dead-end ghetto street whose distinctive feature is the brick wall that bottles economic and racial frustration inside. Two interdependent themes bind the stories together: the violence that men enact on women is counteracted by the healing power of community. The novel’s innovative structure is key to Naylor’s purpose. Exploring the lives of different women on Brewster Place, Naylor attempts to create a microcosm of the black female experience in America.
The microcosm consists of seven African American women representing a range of ages, backgrounds, and sexualities. The first character introduced is Mattie Michael, whose fierce love for her son twice costs her the security and pride of a happy home. Her hard-won strength becomes the force that helps other women, such as Mattie’s oldest friend, Etta Mae Johnson, and Lucielia Louise Turner (Ciel), whom Mattie helped raise. One of the most powerful scenes of the novel is the one in which Mattie saves Ciel, who loses her desire to live after the tragic deaths of her two children. Kiswana Browne is a would-be revolutionary who attempts to reclaim her African heritage and...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
At twenty-three, Mattie Michael is seduced by Butcher Fuller, a handsome ne’er-do-well. When she becomes pregnant, her father beats her to get her to reveal her unborn child’s father. Mattie, disgraced in her father’s eyes, moves from home in Rock Vale, Tennessee, to North Carolina, where her friend Etta Mae Johnson takes her in. After Mattie’s son is born and Etta Mae moves on, Mattie starts boarding with Miss Eva and her granddaughter Ciel. After several years, Miss Eva dies, Ciel’s parents come for her, and Mattie is left with the responsibility for paying the mortgage and for raising her son Basil.
Miss Eva always said that Mattie is too indulgent and protective of Basil, but Mattie will not listen. When Basil, now grown, gets into a barroom fight and accidentally kills a man, his lack of moral fiber is apparent. He allows his mother to put up her now mortgage-free home as bond for his bail. He will not face the slim possibility of going to prison, though conviction is unlikely. He skips town and disappears. Mattie, homeless again, finds a home through Etta Mae in Brewster Place.
Etta Mae Johnson is in Brewster Place after many years of roaming from place to place, making and breaking off liaisons with men who temporarily support her. When she reaches the age where, as she says to Mattie, “each year there’s a new line [on her face] to cover” and her body “cries for just a little more rest,” she decides it is time to find a good man, marry, and settle down. She thinks she finds that man in a dynamic preacher, Moreland Woods. Woods knows, however, that Etta Mae is a “worldly” woman whom he can use and discard with no fear of entanglement, which he does, leaving Etta Mae resigned to relying for “love and comfort” on her friend Mattie.
Brewster Place is also home to younger women. Kiswana Browne is a twenty-three-year-old college dropout who leaves her middle-class life in Linden Hills for Brewster Place to be close to “her people.” Her mother, a proud, genteel woman, visits Kiswana in Brewster Place to try to persuade the young woman that living in poverty is not the only way Kiswana can show her solidarity with the black masses. Kiswana’s rebellion, however, requires that she remove all traces of her middle-class background, including changing her name...
(The entire section is 950 words.)
Gloria Naylor's novel The Women of Brewster Place (1982) was awarded the American Book Award for best first novel in 1983. The book has been praised by critics for its characterization of social issues of its time, especially that of African American women struggling in an inner-city neighborhood. Sally Hoyman, writing for Women & Therapy, refers to Naylor's debut novel as a "heartwrenching story" as well as an "amazing literary beauty."
Naylor's novel opens with a chapter about the history of the street where much of the story will take place, Brewster Place. This area of an unnamed metropolis was first planned by a corrupt politician and a realtor to whom the politician owed a favor. A large...
(The entire section is 553 words.)
Mattie Michael, Sections 1-3 Summary
The first woman whose life is detailed in The Women of Brewster Place is Mattie Michael, one of the most important characters in this novel. Mattie is older than the other main characters and comes to Brewster Place after her son, Basil, has forced her to leave her Southern home. Readers are introduced to Mattie as she is moving into an apartment on Brewster Place.
One of the first things that Mattie notices about her new neighborhood is the two-story-high brick wall that stands only six feet from her apartment. The wall, she realizes, will block out the sun for all the houseplants she has brought with her. In her Southern home, the plants had thrived. Thus the wall is a foreshadowing symbol of the changes in...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Mattie Michael, Sections 4-5 Summary
Mattie stays with Eva until the older woman dies. By then, Mattie has saved enough money to make a down payment on Eva's house and make it her own. Mattie has to work two jobs, though, to pay the mortgage. In the meanwhile, her son, Basil, grows up.
As a boy, Basil had been sickly, which made Mattie spoil him a lot. She always thought she needed to defend him at school, too. When things did not work out at one school, she moved Basil to a new school. She always gave into him rather than disciplining and disappointing him. Eva had pointed this out to Mattie, telling her that kind of love was not healthy for the boy, but Mattie chose to ignore the older woman's advice. Mattie thought she knew what was best for her son....
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Etta Mae Johnson Summary
Etta Mae Johnson is a lifelong friend of Mattie's. The two women have known one another since childhood. It was to Etta Mae that Mattie turned when Mattie was pregnant. In spite of their long relationship, the two women are very different from one another. Whereas Mattie has always been determined to live her life independently, Etta Mae has spent most of her life looking for a man to take care of her. Though she has been in many disastrous relationships, Etta Mae still hopes that one day her dream of a perfect man will appear.
Etta Mae arrives after Mattie has been living at Brewster Place for a while. She had written to Mattie telling her to expect her. What Mattie did not expect was to see Etta Mae arrive in a pink...
(The entire section is 568 words.)
Kiswana Browne Summary
Kiswana Browne is a twenty-something college dropout. She comes from a well-to-do upper-middle-class family but has chosen to live in a studio apartment on Brewster Place. When she looks out her sixth-floor apartment window, she can see the tops of the trees of the neighborhood where she lived until recently and sometimes longs for the luxury of the place. However, she is determined to make her own way in the world without her parents' help or their influence.
On this day, as she is looking out of her window, she recognizes the well-dressed woman walking toward her building. When the woman nears, Kiswana realizes that it is her mother. So Kiswana rushes around her apartment, quickly picking up clothes, making up the...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Luciella Louise Turner Summary
Lucielia Louise Turner is the mother of a young girl, Serena. As this chapter opens, people are gathering for Serena's funeral. At first there is no explanation given for the girl's death. There is only a discussion between a man named Eugene, who claims to be Serena's father, and Ben, the apartment janitor. Eugene is complaining because everyone, especially Mattie, is refusing to allow Eugene to attend his daughter's funeral.
The story then jumps backward in time to when Serena was still alive. Lucielia, who is referred to as Ciel, is doing the dishes when she hears the door to her apartment open. Without turning, she knows it is Eugene. He is the only other person who has a key. She has not seen Eugene in a long time....
(The entire section is 562 words.)
Cora Lee Summary
According to her parents, Cora Lee was an unusual child. All she wanted for Christmas each year was a new doll. The doll had to be a special kind. It had to look like a baby. Even when she was thirteen, Cora Lee still asked for a new baby doll. Finally, her father refused, saying that she was too old for dolls.
Shortly after this incident, one of Cora Lee's sisters told their mother that Cora Lee was doing "nasty" with one of the neighborhood boys. When the mother approached her, Cora Lee said that what she had done was not nasty because it felt very good. Her mother warned Cora Lee that she had to be careful now because even though it might feel good, having sex with a boy could lead to getting pregnant. When her...
(The entire section is 618 words.)
The Two Summary
Lorraine and Theresa share an apartment on Brewster Place. They are new residents who are readily accepted, at least when they first move in. After a while, though, after some of the other neighbors notice that no men come and go from their apartment, Lorraine and Theresa become topics of malicious gossip. One of the residents, whose apartment is across an alley from the two women's, claims that she has watched Lorraine and Theresa and finds them suspicious. They are very friendly with one another, and their relationship appears "unnatural," according to the gossip.
Lorraine is tall and thin. In comparison to Theresa, Lorraine is quiet and likes to keep to herself. She is a schoolteacher and is wary of people spreading...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
The Block Party & Dusk Summary
Kiswana has planned a block party for Brewster Place to raise funds to pay for a lawyer so the tenants can fight their absent landlord. It has been raining all week, ever since the morning that Ben died. There is no mention of Lorraine and what has happened to her. All that readers know is that she is no longer there.
Mattie is outside, grilling ribs. Other women stand behind tables filled with cakes and other desserts. Music is playing and Etta is dancing. Kiswana moves from one table to the next, worried about the sales as well as the dark clouds that are forming overhead. Customers from around the neighborhood are coming to eat.
When Mattie looks up from her cooking, she sees a woman walking toward her....
(The entire section is 534 words.)