The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although the young African American girls in “Brownies” are hard to resist with their childlike streetwise talk, they are really middle-class kids, posturing the way they have seen others do. The story succeeds because it allows African American girls to make fun of white girls and talk tough about beating them up for using racial slurs, but since they are only small children at summer camp, it is all within a harmless, comic context.

Dina, in the title story, comes from a middle-class background in which she was an honor-roll student. However, at Yale she finds herself instantly transformed into a hard-bitten, recalcitrant kid. Dina insists that she likes being outcast and alone, but when an overweight white girl named Heidi seeks her advice and friendship, they become such constant companions that people being to think they are lovers. Like “Brownies,” “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” succeeds because it presents a rebellious African American who is not a streetwise tough but a middle-class good girl. Dina does not want to be a compliant African American, but she is not sure how to find a place for herself.