Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246
Set in the context of the United States' Civil Rights movement which escalated in the 1960's, Brown Girl Dreaming follows an African American girl named Jackie whose family members internalize and respond in different ways to their racial and social disenfranchisement. At the beginning of the novel, Jackie compares her life in the North, which has relinquished its Jim Crow laws, to that of her grandparents' in the segregated town of Greenville, South Carolina. She struggles to understand why her grandparents submit to state-sponsored human rights abuse when they could simply move. Ultimately, she learns that all people strive to live good lives despite different poverties of privilege, often at the price of being unable to conceive of a different world. Her grandparents believe in and endorse the long-term power of peaceful protest to improve their conditions, putting their trust in God.
Jackie also learns that human individuals and groups contain multitudes of conflicting values: for example, many of the white people in Greenville treat Jackie and her family like equals despite the very real oppression that surrounds them. Conversely, when Jackie and her friend Maria learn about the Black Panther movement, they learn that even grassroots protest movements have their own ingrained political inequities. At the end of the novel, Jackie arrives at a liberal ironist view of political struggle and identity, learning that she alone must process and select from the rubbish heap of history which are the best values for herself to adopt.
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