Betsey Brown, as the oldest child, feels a sense of responsibility to her younger siblings, and yet she is desperately seeking to find her place in the changing world of her family and St. Louis of 1959.
Shange unfolds Betsey’s character through a series of major and minor crises that Betsey must confront. Her parents’ troubled marriage is one event that takes its toll on Betsey, even more so when her mother, Jane, actually leaves the family. In her mother’s absence, Betsey exhibits a variety of behaviors that demonstrate her coping. She is at first rebellious, especially when her father employs a series of housekeepers. Betsey does not like most of the housekeepers and finds ways to make them quit or get fired.
Beyond her rebellion, she feels the changing family circumstances are preventing her from doing the things she most likes. Because she does not want an outsider to take her mother’s place, she tries to take on more of those responsibilities herself, and she is often frustrated not only in her attempts to do so but also by the time and effort it takes from her other normal adolescent pursuits. For example, she is intelligent, makes good grades in school, and loves to recite African American poetry, and she has several secretive and private places in and around her family’s home where she likes to go to fantasize about romance and adventure.
Her mother’s continued absence and Betsey’s feeling that no one understands her is punctuated in her character development as a series of mood swings that increasingly become more pronounced. Betsey’s final way to cope with her problems is to run away. It is when she runs away to a poorer section of the black community, where she sees firsthand what real struggle is about, that she begins to reassess her situation at home and finds the balance that marks her growing up.
In a family of spunky people, Betsey has the most spirit. She has a sharp tongue and a quick...
(The entire section is 804 words.)