What is a detailed context on Brown Girl, Brownstones?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the critical elements in the social context of Brown Girl, Brownstones  is quite deliberate.  Paule Marshall recognized the vacuum of women's voices in literature.  She understood that she wanted to construct a context in her novel where the woman's voice is of central importance:  “Traditionally in most fiction men are the wheelers and dealers. They are the ones in whom power is invested. I wanted to turn that around. I wanted women to be the centers of power.”  This location of the woman's voice from margin to center is a significant aspect of the novel's context.  It is for this reason that a young woman of color is the central focus of the novel.  Marshall recognizes the importance of ensuring the exploration of what it means to be a woman of color.  This becomes a significant part of the novel's context.

Selina's context is essential to the novel's development.  She is a young woman of color, not from America, and on the verge of exploring her own identity in different forms.  This context takes on social, psychological, and even existential forms of exploration.  Selina is able to analyze her own life through the varying social contexts that her condition straddles.  Marshall does not have her capitulate to one context at the cost of others.  Rather, she develops a narrative that is a collection of different social contexts, suggesting that individuals in the modern predicament are not singular in their definition. Rather, they are pluralistic and intensely divergent in developing their notion of self.  Selina recognizes this as she struggles to come to terms with her own background, her narrative as a woman, and as a person of color in the new world of "this man's country."  It is in this light where the social contexts are detailed and multiple in Marshall's work.

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