In "Brownies," what is the significance of Daphne cleaning the bathroom trash?

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The girls of Troop 909, after hearing that the Brownies in Troop 710 have insulted them (that they called her a racial slur), plan an attack on the girls from Troop 710. Daphne, who is in charge of the girls of Troop 710, cleans up the bathroom in response to Arnetta's statement about doing something for Daphne. When she does this, she resists Arnetta and Octavia by displaying her own strength and character by not joining the other girls in their plan to go berserk against their opponents. She shows compassion toward others and proves that she is above all of the other girls when it comes to cleaning up a dirty bathroom.

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In cleaning up the bathroom, Daphne rises above all the girls in her troop of Brownies. The bathroom is described as being very dirty:

Pine needles, leaves and dirty, flattened, wads of chewing gum covered the floor like a mosaic. Webs of hair matted the drain in the middle...

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of the floor . . . A thread of floss snaked from a wad of tissues dotted with the faint red-pink of blood.

Elise, one of the girls in the narrator’s group of Brownies, exclaims, pertaining to the bathroom, "Wow. It’s a mess." This could mean that the mess in the bathroom has not been created by the narrator’s group of Brownies, rather one of the other troops, possibly Troop 909. It is, therefore, puzzling that Daphne would want to clean up a mess created by another troop in the camp. Before she does the cleaning, there is a conversation between the girls. Arnetta, the girl who comes up with the rumor that the Caucasian girls in Troop 909 have insulted Daphne—that they called her a racial slur—is planning an attack on the purported aggressors. She has assembled all the girls of her troop in the bathroom and is busy planning how to confront the girls of Troop 909. It seems that the narrator suspects that Arnetta could be accusing the other girls falsely. She asks what would happen if the other girls deny the allegations made against them. To this, Arnetta replies that "Snot, don’t think. Just fight. If you even know how." Arnetta then tells the quiet Daphne that "Daphne, you don’t have to fight. We’re doing this for you." Afterward, Daphne "walks to the counter, takes a clean paper towel and starts to pick up all the rubbish around." None of the girls join her in cleaning the bathroom; they just watch her. Finally, they leave, and Daphne is left behind, alone to her cleaning.

Daphne's actions are significant because, through them, she displays a strength of character. She does not allow herself to be swayed in all ways by the girls of her troop. Although she recognizes the power that Arnetta and Octavia have within the group, she resists their negative influence in her own small way. Arnetta forces her to accept that the girls of Troop 909 have insulted her. Therefore, she defies their plan at retaliation by cleaning up a mess created by other girls in the bathroom. Later on, she also refuses to join the other girls in the attack plan. She shows compassion and respect for all others irrespective of their race, culture, or looks.

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"Brownies" is a short story by ZZ Packer, part of her 2003 anthology Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.

In the story, a group of Brownie Girl Scouts plans revenge on a rival troop for a perceived racial slur. They hike to the public restroom to lie in wait, only to find it very messy; when their nerve fails and they leave, one girl, Daphne, remains behind, cleaning:

...she began again, picking up leaves, wads of paper, the cotton fluff innards from a torn stuffed toy. She did it so methodically, so exquisitely, so humbly, she must have been trained. I thought of the dresses she wore, faded and old, yet so pressed and clean. I then saw the poverty in them; I could imagine her mother, cleaning the houses of others, returning home, weary.
(Packer, "Brownies," Google Books)

Since Daphne is poor, she is introverted, and is in this case being used as a stalking horse; the other girls have laid the "hearing" of the racial slur on her. Daphne tags along because she wants to be accepted, and she starts to clean the restroom because she is uncomfortable with their prejudice and anger; she reverts to the lessons of her home, where cleanliness is a virtue. It is hard to be poor, but many poor people take pride in their cleanliness, because they don't have to be poor and dirty as well. Where the other girls leave the mess because they don't care, Daphne sees that the dirty restroom as something intolerable; she is not concerned with their planned revenge, but she can do something about the mess.

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