Brown Girl, Brownstones

by Paule Marshall

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A major hallmark of Caribbean literature is the quest for identity. Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones explores Selina's navigation of self-identification and how it is affected by her various relationships. Analyze the complex relationships that exist between the following pairs: Selina and Silla, Selina and Deighton, Deighton and Silla, and Selina and Clive. How do these relationships each affect Selina's identity development?

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Throughout Brown Girl, Brownstones, Paule Marshall presents Selina's progression through the eyes of the accompanying characters. Within the text, we see Selina interact with and observe three of the most influential characters on her person: Silla, her mother; Deighton, her father; and Clive, her first love. Through these scenes, we can see Selina's perspective of herself through the eyes of the narrator and the others that know her the most.

Let's begin with Selina's relationship with Silla. We can never forget that one's relationship with a birth mother starts well before any memories are even conceived. Is this why Marshall has Selina analyze a family photo as one of her actions in the novel, seeing a "girlish expectancy" in Silla's smile? Next comes Selina's father, Deighton, whom Selina analyzes in the same family photo. Deighton's constancy in the "flux and unreality of life" could say something about his character and why Selina seems to end up siding with him throughout the novel. The early stages of adolescence are marked with imagination, and it seems Selina has found a companion in Deighton for her childhood fantasies.

Silla, working a job she despises, provides the realistic tinge to all of Deighton's and Selina's fantasies. Take, for instance, the property that Deighton acquires in the first chapter. This piece of land serves as the main point of contention between Silla and Deighton throughout the rest of the novel. While Silla is out working the same job day after day, Deighton is in the sun parlor learning the newest skill for his next adventure. At the end of chapter 1, we can see Selina's childhood vision of her mother as an omnipresent overseer of the household.

In the second book of the novel, the family is caught within the "mesh" that the "question of the land" casts over the house. The narrator tells us that Selina can hear her parents' arguments in the night, forcing her to imagine that she is a child sleeping peacefully. What do you suppose her dreams consisted of? Silla berating Deighton to dispose of the land so the family could live better? Imagine you are Selina. Which parent would you side with? What would you think of the other?

Perhaps this is why we still find Selina at her father's side after the housing fiasco has subsided. Selina has witnessed Silla betray her father, and she has also seen Deighton squander the small fortune that could have had their entire family living well in the long term, yet we still see Selina by Deighton's side when he seeks Father Peace for some clarity to his own life.

Selina doesn't understand Father Peace. She even finds herself ready to laugh at her father's dedication to Father Peace, viewing it as just another phase in his life, but she is willing to continue sticking by Deighton's side in his room at the restaurant, which is similar to their sun parlor existence. However, abandonment is not something that Silla can sit with.

How would you feel toward your mother if she had your father deported, especially if you felt that her actions led directly to his death? These are the questions we have to ask of Selina as we see her progress from a teenager into an adult. She is now fatherless, desperate for understanding while existing in unfamiliar circles.

At the beginning of book 4, we see Selina fumbling through family, community, and college without the moral compass that her father previously provided. The only bit of solace that Selina receives during this tumultuous time is through Suggie, and this relationship is severed by Silla, who cites Suggie as a "prostitute" and evicts her. So it only seems natural that this is when Selina finds Clive.

Seemingly both lost, Selina and Clive form a secret bond. While they meet at an Association meeting meant for Barbadians living in Brooklyn looking to escalate their existences, Clive isn't even attending the meeting, and Selina is on her way out after cursing the Association's intentions. They leave the meeting together and almost immediately form an "intimate circle" very similar to that which Selina had with her father.

Is Clive not similar to Selina's father in occupation? How does Clive seem to view Selina's significance in his own life? Also, how does Selina seem to view her relationship with Clive? Would that make Selina like, or opposite of, Silla?

The answers to all these questions seem to be concluded by the novel's end, illustrating the development of Selina's inner self through all of her outer influences. What is the significance of Selina declining the Association's scholarship? How does Silla finally see Selina after she declines the scholarship? And what does Silla finally decide to do for herself?

In her last phone call with her friend, Selina decides that she must do what is best for her, just as Silla, Deighton, and Clive have all decided to do. Is this not the lesson that Marshall attempts to explain throughout the entire novel?

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