Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Brown Girl, Brownstones depicts the coming-of-age of Selina Boyce. Narrated in the third person, the novel is divided into four books that cover the growth and maturation of Selina from the age of ten to eighteen. The first two books bring out the basic conflict in the novel. The Boyce family lives in a leased brownstone in Brooklyn. As young as she is, Selina is aware of the tension between her parents. She is devoted to her father, Deighton, an impractical dreamer who lacks the ambition and energy of other immigrants from the West Indies. He likes to bask in the sun and flit from one plan to another, without applying himself enough to achieve any goal. Silla, Selina’s mother, offers a stark contrast; she works two jobs and is determined to succeed in attaining the American Dream. Selina’s inability to reconcile the two conflicting forces in her life is further complicated by her own emerging sexuality and consciousness of race. Beryl, Suggie, and Miss Thompson are her confidantes during this period.

The underlying conflict deepens when Deighton Boyce inherits two acres of land in Barbados. Silla wants him to sell the land and use the cash as a down payment on their brownstone. Deighton refuses to consider the option and dreams of building a beautiful house on the land. As the United States enters World War II, Silla and her fellow countrymen find better-paying jobs and begin to acquire properties at a faster pace. Envious of her friends,...

(The entire section is 569 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The first full-length American novel to offer an in-depth treatment of a black girl growing up, Brown Girl, Brownstones describes the coming-of-age of Selina Boyce, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants living in Brooklyn, New York. Beginning when she is ten, the novel traces the various influences that affect her development until she reaches college age. As she struggles with warfare between her parents, her sexual awakening, racism, and the development of her own values, Selina’s is a painful coming-of-age. Yet she seems strong and resolute at the novel’s end.

The novel is divided into four parts. The first, “A Long Day and a Long Night,” introduces the various characters as they go about their business in a Brooklyn neighborhood on a single day. The second part, “Pastorale,” is a lyrical evocation of two girls’ friendship and Selina’s despair at the physical prospect of growing up. Part 3, “The War,” occurs simultaneously with World War II but centers on the warfare between Selina’s parents over Barbadian land willed to Deighton. Silla wants to sell it and “buy house”—a New York brownstone—while Deighton wishes to return to Barbados. The fourth part is entitled “Selina” and treats Selina as a young woman finally come of age, challenging her mother and community, having her first love affair, attending college, and being wounded by racism.

Besides being the first American novel to treat a black...

(The entire section is 434 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In a society that paid little attention to the welfare of young women of color, Brown Girl, Brownstones provided a much-needed contribution. Like many other works of women’s literature, it was not properly appreciated when it was first published, but it has grown in influence and importance as the study of women has developed. Adopted and reissued by the Feminist Press, the novel now must be regarded as one of the masterpieces of coming-of-age literature.

That Paule Marshall had no precedent for such a novel makes her achievement all the more remarkable. She eagerly read Gwendolyn Brooks’s Maud Martha (1953), which was the first book to describe a black woman’s consciousness, but she had no model for a book about a black girl’s interior life. Moreover, she could find few models of a strong woman character like Silla Boyce. In an interview Marshall attests the importance of creating such characters: “Traditionally in most fiction men are the wheelers and dealers. They are the ones in whom power is invested. I wanted to turn that around. I wanted women to be the centers of power.” Thus Brown Girl, Brownstones is one of the pioneering works of black women’s fiction.

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Marshall pays homage to an oral storytelling tradition. In "Shaping the World of My Art," Marshall describes listening as a child to her...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Identity, culture, and history are three elements which shape Marshall's second novel, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969)....

(The entire section is 1439 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brown, Lloyd W. “The Rhythms of Power in Paule Marshall’s Fiction.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 7 (1974): 159-167. Examines the use of rhythm and sound in Marshall’s novels and short stories, especially Brown Girl, Brownstones and “To Da-duh, In Memoriam.” Brown contends that Marshall uses a repetitive, rhythmic symbolism to support themes of self-reflection and life versus death. He also examines the way in which the power of the machine, another strong theme in Marshall’s fiction, is portrayed through rhythmic symbols, pitting the machine against the life force to create a jarring “sound” full of tension and conflict.


(The entire section is 597 words.)