Reena and Other Stories Critical Essays

Paule Marshall


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

A mature, middle-aged Selina, the protagonist of Marshall’s novel Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), can possibly be found in the short story “Reena.” The story has been described by critic Barbara Christian, in Black Feminist Criticism (1985), as “one of the first pieces of Afro-American fiction to delve into the complex choices confronting the contemporary, educated African-American woman.” Reena is self-exploratory; she knows what she wants from life. As a woman who has fought her way from working-class to middle-class status, she has had experiences that are similar to those of other African American women: rejection by African American men, single parenthood, and underemployment. A sophisticated and intelligent woman, Reena is aware of the inequities that are inherent in American society and are reproduced in different forms in African American communities.

After two unsuccessful love affairs, she is understandably reticent in beginning new relationships. Her first lover rejects her because his family considers her too dark. The second, a European American, represents not only a part of her involvement in radical politics but also an escape from her “self.” As she evolves, she must discard him. She must, however, find an acceptable partner. African American men of a suitable status prefer European American women, are homosexual, or are resolutely yoked to their parents. Not only has Reena been subjected to the racism and sexism of U.S. society, but she has also experienced the “colorism” that exists in many African American communities.

Reena eventually marries an African American...

(The entire section is 671 words.)