As the title suggests, Naylor’s novel is about a community of women. Naylor writes of them, “Brewster Place became especially fond of its colored daughters as they milled like determined spirits among its decay, trying to make it a home.” Although the undisputed leader of this community is Mattie, the women are presented as sisters who mentor, nurture, guide, and heal one another. With the exceptions of Kiswana and “the two,” the women are refugees from the South, women for whom Brewster Place is both a literal and a figurative dead end.
Mattie holds the community and the novel together. Hers is the first story, and her dream concludes the novel. In her story, she is impregnated by Butch, beaten by her father, and betrayed by a son she had spoiled. What she learned from Eva, her mentor and benefactor, sustains her when she loses her home and moves to Brewster Place. Naylor likens her situation to that of her plants: “All the beautiful plants that once had an entire sun porch for themselves in the home she had exchanged thirty years of her life to pay for would now have to fight for life on a crowded windowsill.” Rather than feeling self-pity, Mattie fights for life but also aids the other women in Brewster Place.
She heals Etta, but her most significant act involves Lucielia, who seems determined to die after her baby’s death. Mattie rocks her as a mother rocks a child, but the rocking transcends physical movement. It becomes a...
(The entire section is 599 words.)