Brown Girl, Brownstones Summary

Paule Marshall

Brown Girl, Brownstones

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Brown Girl, Brownstones Summary

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Brown Girl, Brownstones is a novel by the internationally recognized writer, Paule Marshall. Brown Girl, Brownstones is Marshall’s first novel, and it was published in 1959. It is a story that focuses primarily on the Bajan, or Barbadian immigrants, that moved into Brooklyn, New York after The Great Depression, when jobs and work was scarce for everyone, especially immigrants. About a year after its publication, the novel was adapted into a drama, by CBS Television Workshop. The book became a fast growing success story when it was reprinted in 1981 by the Feminist Press.

The story begins with the youngest daughter in an immigrant family, named Selina Boyce, who moves with her family from Barbados to Brooklyn in the 1930s. The Boyce family lives in a brownstone house in Brooklyn, but they have to share these accommodations with several other tenants. There are many immigrants from the West Indies, and the Boyces are no different; they hope to one day buy their own house, which would serve as the ultimate symbol of the success and status that they dream of. Buying a house of their own would mean they have made it in America.

Selina is ten years old at the beginning of the novel. She does not get along with her mother, who is a very harsh, shrewish woman named Silla. Silla is constantly yelling and complaining about everyone and everything. Selina does, however, love spending quality time with her father, an easy going, happy-go-lucky man whose name is Deighton. Deighton is charming and fun-loving, but without much aspiration or discipline. He is always preparing or training for a different career, but it never quite works out. Silla, by contrast, is hard to get along with but is clearly a very hard-working woman. She is constantly cleaning the house, and is often heard complaining that her husband is a lazy adulterer. She also complains that her daughter, Ina, is a sneak, and that Selina is a tomboy, is too loud, and never listens. Selina thinks about the baby boy that her mother had many years ago, who died. She always feels that her mother wishes Selina were her son instead. One day, Selina’s father, Deighton, receives news from back home in Barbados. He has inherited a plot of land there. Selina’sparents quickly begin to argue about what they should do with this piece of land. Silla thinks that Deighton should sell the land as soon as possible, so that they can finally reach their goal of buying their own home in America. Deighton isn’t so sure. He argues for holding on to the land. This argument goes on for many months, and in the end, Silla vows that she will get that money herself, one way or another.

World War II begins, and Silla has to go to work at a defense factory. At this time, she forges Deighton’s signature and sells the land in Barbados behind his back. Then, when the money arrives in the mail from the sale of the land, Deighton blows it all. He goes on a shopping spree for his entire family, and buys fine clothes and toys for everyone. Silla is furious.

One day soon after, Deighton is involved in an accident at the factory where he works. He loses the use of one of his arms. When he finally returns from the hospital, it is with a surreal detachment from reality, and he can only seem to talk about Peace. Selina soon discovers that her father has joined a cult. It is called the Peace Movement, and it worships a man named Father Peace, as God. Deighton announces to his family that he is moving out to live with the Peace Movement, and Silla is so angry she sends the police after him. She tells them he is an illegal alien, in order to get him deported back to Barbados. He is captured and put on a ship back to the islands, but on the way there he jumps overboard, and drowns.

Silla encourages Selina to go to college and become a doctor. Silla wants her daughter to join the Barbadian Association. Selina doesn’t like the Association, believing it to be full of hypocrisy and a clan-like mentality, but then she meets Clive. She loses her virginity to him, and decides to work for the Association’s scholarship and then use the money to run away with Clive. She wins the fund, but refuses to accept it. She doesn’t think she deserves it. Instead, she leaves the Association, and decides to use her dancing skills and wits to support herself. She takes off, alone into the world, as a young woman.