Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring

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  • Features 14 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Brown Girl in the Ring Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Brown Girl in the Ring” by Nalo Hopkinson includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 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 Ending the Cycle of Generational Violence and The Disproportionate Power Between Modern Medicine and Traditional Knowledge.

Plot Summary

Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring was published in 1998. The science fiction novel was the winner of several awards that include the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Set after the Riots in Toronto that splintered the city into the impoverished center and wealthier surrounding suburbs, the novel follows the spiritual and personal journey of Ti-Jeanne, an Afro-Caribbean woman who comes from a matrilineal line of seers and healers. Living in the city center with Gros-Jeanne, or Mami, her grandmother, Ti-Jeanne’s life becomes uprooted when her baby’s father, Tony, seeks her help to run away. Tony works for Rudy, the city’s most feared crime boss who acquired his power by manipulating spiritual traditions he learned from Mami, his former wife. Rudy ordered Tony to acquire a human heart for Premier Catherine Uttley, a politician in need of a new heart, but, because human organ donations are nearly obsolete since the Riots, Tony knows that he will have to commit murder to complete this task.

Still taken with Tony, Ti-Jeanne begs Mami to help him. Mami obliges reluctantly, calling upon the spirits of Papa Osain and Eshu to help hide Tony and Ti-Jeanne as they make their way to the city’s outer limits. Tony and Ti-Jeanne are nearly successful when they are intercepted by Rudy’s posse. Ti-Jeanne is possessed by the Prince of Cemetery, an aspect of Eshu, who helps her defeat Rudy’s “raggas.” Terrified of Ti-Jeanne’s possession, Tony runs away. Rudy catches him and threatens him with torture and eventual death if he does not kill Mami and bring her heart to Uttley. Meanwhile, thinking Tony has abandoned her, Ti-Jeanne returns to Mami’s house where her grandmother teaches her about the eight African deities and sheds insight on her seer abilities.

Mi-Jeanne, Ti-Jeanne’s mother, returns to Mami’s house to deliver a warning about Tony. Mi-Jeanne has been serving as Rudy’s “duppy” (a spirit or ghost) and doing his murderous bidding. The warning comes too late. Tony kills Mami and delivers her body to the hospital for the heart transplant. Tony tries to kill Ti-Jeanne as well, but Mi-Jeanne intervenes and turns into her duppy form. Rudy has ordered the duppy to kill both Tony and Ti-Jeanne. Ti-Jeanne asks Mi-Jeanne to let her kill Rudy first, to free Mi-Jeanne from her duppy form and her murderous mission. Mi-Jeanne agrees. Together, they go in search of Rudy. When they find him, Ti-Jeanne becomes frightened and tries to run away with Tony, as Rudy, his posse, and the duppy pursue them. A band of children that Mami has helped in the past rescue Tony and Ti-Jeanne. When Ti-Jeanne realizes that one of the children has died trying to protect them, she resolves to end Rudy’s reign over Toronto’s city center by calling upon the Prince of Cemetery for help. She asks the spirit to cloak her in fog so that she can sneak up on Rudy, kill him, and destroy his duppy bowl, which is the source of his power.

When Ti-Jeanne successfully arrives undetected at Rudy’s place, she realizes that bullets cannot hurt him. With Mi-Jeanne’s assistance, Ti-Jeanne manages to destroy the duppy bowl, releasing Mi-Jeanne from her duppy form and forcing Rudy to return to his aged body. Rudy’s posse detains Ti-Jeanne so that she can be turned into Rudy’s next duppy. For this to happen, Ti-Jeanne has to separate her spirit from her body willingly. Rudy paralyzes Ti-Jeanne with bufo powder and tries to convince her to separate her spirit from her body by lying to her about the wonders of becoming a duppy. Ti-Jeanne starts to believe his lies, but, before the ritual is complete, the Prince of Cemetery appears in one of his creature forms and encourages her to fight back. Ti-Jeanne calls upon all the African spirits for help to stop Rudy, using the CN Tower as a conjuring rod for this summoning. The spirits arrive one by one to punish Rudy and his posse. The Prince of Cemetery arrives with a procession of the dead whose lives Rudy has taken. Without any powers, Rudy is washed away along with the members of his posse, leaving Ti-Jeanne alone in the CN Tower.

Ti-Jeanne returns home to find Mi-Jeanne alive in her human body. They spend the coming days rebuilding their relationship while planning Mami’s wake. Tony arrives to apologize. Ti-Jeanne allows him to pay his respects to Mami but does not accept him back into her life. As people gather inside Mami’s house for the wake, Ti-Jeanne sits outside with her unnamed baby and considers giving her child a name.

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