At twenty-three, Mattie Michael is seduced by Butcher Fuller, a handsome ne’er-do-well. When she becomes pregnant, her father beats her to get her to reveal her unborn child’s father. Mattie, disgraced in her father’s eyes, moves from home in Rock Vale, Tennessee, to North Carolina, where her friend Etta Mae Johnson takes her in. After Mattie’s son is born and Etta Mae moves on, Mattie starts boarding with Miss Eva and her granddaughter Ciel. After several years, Miss Eva dies, Ciel’s parents come for her, and Mattie is left with the responsibility for paying the mortgage and for raising her son Basil.
Miss Eva always said that Mattie is too indulgent and protective of Basil, but Mattie will not listen. When Basil, now grown, gets into a barroom fight and accidentally kills a man, his lack of moral fiber is apparent. He allows his mother to put up her now mortgage-free home as bond for his bail. He will not face the slim possibility of going to prison, though conviction is unlikely. He skips town and disappears. Mattie, homeless again, finds a home through Etta Mae in Brewster Place.
Etta Mae Johnson is in Brewster Place after many years of roaming from place to place, making and breaking off liaisons with men who temporarily support her. When she reaches the age where, as she says to Mattie, “each year there’s a new line [on her face] to cover” and her body “cries for just a little more rest,” she decides it is time to find a good man, marry, and settle down. She thinks she finds that man in a dynamic preacher, Moreland Woods. Woods knows, however, that Etta Mae is a “worldly” woman whom he can use and discard with no fear of entanglement, which he does, leaving Etta Mae resigned to relying for “love and comfort” on her friend Mattie.
Brewster Place is also home to younger women. Kiswana Browne is a twenty-three-year-old college dropout who leaves her middle-class life in Linden Hills for Brewster Place to be close to “her people.” Her mother, a proud, genteel woman, visits Kiswana in Brewster Place to try to persuade the young woman that living in poverty is not the only way Kiswana can show her solidarity with the black masses. Kiswana’s rebellion, however, requires that she remove all traces of her middle-class background, including changing her name...
(The entire section is 950 words.)