Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Daughters is Paule Marshall’s fourth novel. Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) is a classic bildungsroman that has steadily gained respect and popularity since its publication. The Chosen Place, the Timeless People (1969) concerns itself not only with an individual and her family but also with an entire people. It is a large book exploring expansive ideas. Praisesong for the Widow (1983), the story of a middle-aged, middle-class African American woman, allowed Marshall, as she has said, to “deal with the notion that one has—women especially have—the absolute right to reconstitute their lives at no matter what age.” Daughters continues Marshall’s exploration of women, often living in two cultures, who come to know themselves as individuals, as women, and as members of the African diaspora.

Marshall acknowledges that she was greatly influenced in language, politics, and life by her mother and the other Barbados women who sat and talked in her mother’s kitchen after working long days cleaning other people’s houses. She has said, “I see myself as someone who is to serve as a vehicle for these marvelous women who never got a chance, on paper, to be the poets that they were.” Her novels are tributes to the women who scrubbed so their daughters could write.