Brown Girl, Brownstones

by Paule Marshall

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What is the reality of American society projected in Brown Girl, Brownstones?

The reality of American society in Brown Girl, Brownstones is that social mobility is all but impossible for immigrants, especially immigrants of color.

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Brown Girl, Brownstones takes place in Brooklyn, New York. The Boyce family has immigrated to the US from Barbados in pursuit of the American dream. We can see this most clearly in Deighton, the patriarch of the family. While he is in the process of studying for his accounting exam, he tells Selina,

We gon live in style, mahn. No little board and shingle house with a shed roof to cook in. We gon have the best now.

Deighton has aspirations for a better life, and he is willing to try any path to get there. When he fails to find an accounting job, he buys a trumpet to try to make it big as a musician. Again, he looks ahead to an idyllic future where people will say about him,

Deighton Boyce is one man that makes good money and lives good. He wear the best of clothes. He eat the finest. He rides in the swellest cars.

His dream, then, is not just of material success, but of respect.

That respect would be hard for an immigrant to find, though, especially one from a predominantly Black country. Early in the novel, Deighton runs into his friend Seifert Yearwood, who urges him to buy a home in order to achieve the social mobility he seeks. Deighton shares his dream of making money via the accounting course, but Yearwood brings him back to reality:

Seifert Yearwood fixed him with a look of tragic concern and shook his arm as if to rouse him. "Boyce, mahn," he began softly, "you can know all the accounting there is, these people still not gon have you up in their fancy office and pulling down the same money as them."

No matter how he good he is at the job, Deighton will always be considered a second-class citizen because of his race. Yearwood's saying this dredges up memories of growing up under colonial rule. He thought he could be free in the US, carving out his own destiny. Yearwood gives him a harsh reminder that the social mobility available to others is largely out of reach of immigrants of color.

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