Brown Girl, Brownstones, Marshall’s first novel, is the story of Selina Boyce, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants, and her journey to womanhood. At ten, Selina resists her awkwardly changing body, uncomfortable yet fascinated by a dawning sexual awareness. Marshall writes candidly about women’s bodies, menstruation, and sexuality at a time when writers, especially women, were not encouraged to be so frank.
This initiation novel brings Selina into much more than physical womanhood. She must also develop emotionally and mentally; she must learn humiliation, grief, understanding, and the courage to be herself. Many characters guide Selina through her approaching womanhood: the voluptuous boarder Suggie; Miss Thompson, an elderly southern hairdresser who serves as comforter and surrogate mother and whose foot bears an ulcerous “life-sore” as a direct result of racism; Selina’s schoolmate Beryl; and, of course, her parents. A final guide is Clive, a sometime artist whose major lesson for her is to learn to leave him.
Selina’s real and ongoing conflict is with her mother, a blank, formidable woman. Eventually, Selina learns to understand her mother better, but she never completely overcomes her anger at her mother’s treatment of her father. Selina also recognizes that a part of her is determined and ruthless, too. She is her mother’s daughter as well as her father’s.
A second plot line follows the complex...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
Brown Girl, Brownstones examines the personal and social development of a young girl, Selina Boyce, born to first-generation Barbadian immigrants to New York. Her first impressions of the world include the heavy, oppressive brownstone dwellings of her neighborhood, a later symbol of all she wishes to escape. She grows up in an atmosphere of familial and social tension: World War II hovers vaguely over her childhood, but more immediate concerns are the battles within her own household.
Selina’s father, Deighton Boyce, is an unskilled and uneducated factory worker. His only asset is his buoyant and free-spirited personality, which carries him through various disappointments. When the accounting course he takes through the mail does not land him a job with a white accounting agency, he turns his back on the business world, dismissing it as hopelessly racist. He picks up a trumpet and is determined, for a time, to become a great jazz musician. Through all of his dreams and illusions, Selina is by his side, believing in him and protecting him from the cold blast of his wife’s derision. Silla Boyce wants only enough money to put a down payment on a house. She works at a factory to accomplish this end and deeply resents her husband’s unwillingness to surrender his dreams and embrace hers.
When Deighton learns that he has inherited a piece of land in Barbados, he begins to spin fantastic dreams about moving his family back to their homeland to live like proper landowners. The land represents to Deighton everything his black skin color has denied him: social status, communal respect, and a life of ease. Silla, however, has no intention of giving up her dream of a home and place in America, and she entertains no romantic illusions about life back in their homeland. In fact, as she explains to Selina, she remembers her life there as filled with torturous labor and unbearable isolation. To expect things to be...
(The entire section is 791 words.)