Mattie Michael grew up in a strict household in Tennessee. Her father is a religious man who abhors Mattie's paramour Butch Fuller. Although Mattie's father prizes his daughter, he also stifles her growth by forbidding her to engage in the world as a teen. After getting pregnant by Fuller, Mattie is beaten by her father and she flees the world. In many ways, Mattie is victimized by her home life and father. The beating she takes is certainly one example, but the attempts of her father to control her life has only worsened her desire to experience it, leading to her pregnancy.
After leaving her father's house she heads north and is living with her son Basil in cheap housing while she struggles working. Her low education and the great influx of migrants from the south make it difficult for her to find anything decent for pay or living. She finally has enough when a rat bites her son. Her fortunes change when she meets Eva, a kind old woman much more affluent who takes in Mattie and Basil. Things are looking up for Mattie who inherits the house after Eva dies. For the first time Mattie has something of her own and hope. However, Basil is arrested after killing a man in a bar. Mattie puts up the house as bail and losses it when Basil skips town. This part of the story mimics her earlier life. Mattie found hope in getting pregnant with Butch, but it ultimately leads to despair. Similarly, she finds hope with Eva but loses everything all over again. She is again victimized by her environment.
Moving to Brewster Place is how Mattie's strength and endurance are shown. She becomes a mother hen to many of the residents even though she knows she will die living there. In some aspects it is a powerful reminder the inner strength can overcome hardships, but the reader can't help but feel sorrow for Mattie. Her knowledge of her impending death within Brewster Place also hints to the reader she has given up hope on moving on and accepted her lot in life. The final victimization of Mattie is the loss of hope for better for herself, while she focuses on helping other find the hope she no longer has.