Literary critic Barbara Christian argues that a major theme of Paule Marshall’s fiction is the black woman’s search for wholeness. In Brown Girl, Brownstones, Selina tries to integrate a number of confusing and even contradictory elements into her life as she grows into adulthood. She must come to terms with her gender, race, community, and individual relationships. Even the brooding, ghost-haunted brownstones themselves influence her life. In forging her own identity, she tries to reconcile the conflicting viewpoints of her parents and to incorporate elements of the lives of other women of whom her mother disapproves, such as Suggie Skeete and Miss Thompson. She find that each of these persons has experiences that have value.
Christian also calls Marshall a relentless analyst of character. The thoroughness of her analyses makes for well-rounded and memorable characters. For example, the young Selina’s salient characteristic is her openness to others’ influence. Even after she tries to shut out certain persons, such as her mother and the members of the Homeowners Association, she realizes that she has not done them justice, for she carries their values with her. When she determines to gain vengeance on her mother and the Barbadian community for her father’s defeat and death, Selina is displaying both her father’s disarming charm and her mother’s strength of will.
In Silla and Deighton, Marshall creates fully developed characters whose mixture of flaws and virtues gives them complexity and credibility. Critic Mary Helen Washington calls Silla a pioneer ruthlessly cutting a path in the American wilderness for her children. Concerned with survival, she cannot afford to tolerate her husband’s weakness. Deighton, on the other hand, seems bewildered by the new land and does not have...
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