Written as an attempt by Paule Marshall to reflect on her own life, Brown Girl, Brownstones is an autobiographically based novel about a young black woman growing up among the Barbadian immigrant community of Brooklyn in the 1940’s. From the beginning, Brown Girl, Brownstones is a novel about the conflicting set of values represented by Deighton and Silla Boyce, with Selina, their daughter and the novel’s main character, caught in the middle. On one side is Deighton Boyce, idle because he lacks the drive and discipline to embrace a culture and its materialistic values that he knows devalue him. Deighton studies to become an accountant, but never becomes one; he studies to learn to play the trumpet, but never performs. Opposing him is Silla Boyce, who embraces a hard-edged, penny-conscious immigrant ethic. Silla is determined to do what it takes to own land and get ahead materially. Though Selina identifies explicitly with her father throughout much of the novel, she slowly comes to realize that her deeper affinities are to her mother.
At the novel’s start, Selina is ten, but she is described by the narrator as possessing a manner seemingly wise beyond her years, with eyes “too old . . . in their centers.” When her father unexpectedly inherits a two-acre plot of land, he begins dreaming of moving back to Barbados. Silla, who has no intention of returning to her homeland and who resents her husband’s dreaming as much as his idleness, plots to have the land sold.
The first two short sections of Brown Girl, Brownstones, “A Long Day and a Long Night” and “Pastorale,” establish the close relationship between Selina and her father, the emerging similarities between Selina and her mother, and the frequently unstated attraction and respect between Silla and Deighton that underlies their fighting. The third section, “The War,” covers the years of World War II, years when the conflict between Silla and Deighton erupts into a domestic war.
After Deighton is notified that he has inherited land, Silla plans to have the land sold behind his back. She...
(The entire section is 869 words.)