Brown Girl, Brownstones

by Paule Marshall

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Brown Girl, Brownstones Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 619

Brown Girl, Brownstones is a novel of Selina’s growth from an immature ten-year-old to a self-confident young woman on the threshold of adulthood. Adolescence, in general, is a difficult time, and in Selina’s case the problems are compounded by the fact that her parents are immigrants trying to make a place for themselves in a new country. The West Indian community depicted in the novel prides itself in its members’ ability to work hard, save money, and acquire property in order to achieve the American Dream of success. People such as Deighton Boyce and Clive Springer who do not follow the norm are looked down on by the community.

Selina’s life is further complicated by her inability to understand the love-hate relationship between her parents. Silla wants Deighton to be like other West Indian men and be a financial success. Selina feels closer to her father, who dwells in the nostalgic memories of his homeland and lacks the tenacity to stick to a goal and achieve it. She is turned off by her mother’s single-minded devotion to making money. She is baffled and irritated by her sister Ina’s complacent attitude, not realizing that Ina’s turn to religion and desire for an unruffled life is her way of coping with the discord at home. Yet, even as Selina openly derides her mother’s ways, she cannot help admiring her strength, determination, and ability to express herself.

Like most adolescents, Selina is unsure of her own identity. Initially, she desires to be like her father; she admires his easygoing ways, his love for life, and his ability to keep dreaming despite constant setbacks. She shares with him his disdain for his fellow Barbadians who become workhorses in pursuit of wealth. Later, as she sees her father collapse before her eyes when his empty dreams disappear and his failures confront him, she grudgingly admits that it is the strength of her mother that keeps the family going. Nevertheless, Selina finds it hard to declare a truce with her mother because of her betrayal that eventually leads to her father’s suicide. Her refusal to pursue a profession that her mother desires and her clandestine affair with Clive are expressions of her rebellion. In college, however, Selina finds her own niche in dance, which gives her an avenue for self-fulfillment and a direction in life. She also recognizes the futility of counting on Clive and thus takes the decisive step to break with him and move on with her life.

Although Brown Girl, Brownstones is not primarily a novel about race relations, Selina’s dawning awareness of how she is viewed by mainstream society is a part of her maturation process. A firsthand experience of hearing the carelessly spoken words of her classmate’s mother denigrating the black race makes Selina realize the hardships endured by women such as her mother and by her fellow Barbadians who take back-breaking menial jobs and save incessantly for the education of their children in the hope that they will be spared such pain. She cannot condone her mother’s actions, but at least she begins to comprehend the motivation behind them. As a child, Selina used to imagine belonging to the gracious world of the white family that had owned their house previously. Now grown up, she knows her place is with her community, flawed although it may be. At the end, when she decides to go to the West Indies to claim her past and make it a part of her American life, she is admitting the necessity of combining the understanding of heritage with the need to act—a synthesis of the conflicting views held by her parents.

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Masterpieces of Women's Literature Brown Girl, Brownstones Analysis