Paule Marshall

Brown Girl, Brownstones

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  • Features 24 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Brown Girl, Brownstones Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Brown Girl, Brownstones” by Paule Marshall includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 24 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The 1940s and the 1950s and Coming of Age.

Plot Summary

Published in 1959, Brown Girl, Brownstones is American novelist Paule Marshall’s debut novel. Loosely based on the early events of Marshall’s life, the story explores Selina Boyce’s coming of age. Selina is the daughter of Deighton and Silla Boyce, Barbadian immigrants living in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s.

Marshall structures the narrative in four parts. In the first, 10-year-old Selina plays in the Brooklyn brownstone where her family lives and listens to her father’s fantasies about building a house back in Barbados. Deighton receives a letter informing him that he has inherited two acres in his native country. When his wife, Silla, hears the news, she wants him to sell the land and use the proceeds to buy the brownstone. Deighton wants to keep the land.

In Book 2, Selina escapes the arguments between her parents by going to the park with Beryl Challenor, her best friend. Meanwhile, Silla, still intent on buying a home, grows increasingly angry as her friends discuss who owns a house, and who does not. One tells her about how spoiled Deighton was growing up. Silla swears to sell the land no matter what, despite her friends’ fears that she will do something regrettable. Selina overhears the vow and grows fearful.

In Book 3, the United States enters World War II, Selina gets her first period, and Silla forges letters in Deighton’s name to convince Deighton’s sister to sell the land in Barbados. Once the sale goes through, Deighton spends all the profits on gifts for himself and his family. The family attends a wedding where the entire community turns its back on Deighton. Near the end of the section, Deighton injures his arm and recuperates for months in a hospital. When he returns home, he is unable to work. He joins a cult and eventually abandons his family to work in a restaurant for the cult. When Silla calls immigration on Deighton, he jumps to his death on the trip back to Barbados. Selina beats up her mother and calls her “Hitler.”

In the final part, Selina attends college. She harbors bitter feelings toward her mother and her community, but Miss Thompson, an older mentor, convinces her to attend a meeting of the Barbadian Homeowner’s and Business Association to learn more about the community. After insulting the members of the club, Selina meets and has a sexual liaison with Clive Springer, a would-be-artist and disgraced son of one of the members. Selina secretly dates Clive and joins a modern dance club. Silla discovers Selena’s secret. Desperate to escape her mother’s expectations and save Clive, who is depressed, Selina decides to join the Association in order to win a scholarship; she plans to use the money to run away with Clive.

On the night of Selina and Clive’s dance club recital, Selina performs superbly. An encounter with a racist white woman spoils her triumph and forces her to confront her lack of integrity in planning to steal the scholarship money. Selina publicly refuses her winnings, tells her mother the truth about her plans, and leaves Brooklyn. She intends to go to the Caribbean as a performer on a cruise ship.

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