The Women Of Brewster Place Summary

Gloria Naylor

The Women Of Brewster Place

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The Women Of Brewster Place Summary

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The Women of Brewster Place (1982), Gloria Naylor’s debut novel, won the National Book Award for First Novel, and was adapted as a miniseries in 1989, and a television show in 1990. The novel is told in seven different stories. Six of these are centered around individual characters, while the seventh focuses on the community as a whole.

Brewster Place is a housing development in an unknown, unfortunate city. There are corrupt secrets lingering everywhere, but the place has survived for decades, offering homes for new immigrants, wave after wave. After each wave, it is possible to see the representation of each shift in history, as the community changes. After the Civil Rights era, a wave of African Americans arrived, many who came from the Southern United States. The stories are from these residents.

Mattie Michael arrives from her parents’ home, which she has left because she is pregnant with an untrustworthy man’s child. The man is named Butch Fuller. She arrives at the same time as the Great Migration. Mattie works on an assembly line for long hours and lives in a dilapidated building. A rat bites her new baby one day, and she begins looking for a new home. She runs into Ms. Eva Turner, an old, light-skin woman who offers her a rent-free home. Ms. Eva soon dies, and Mattie purchases the house on her own. She stays there to raise her son, Basil. Basil grows into a troubled young man, and one night, he kills a man in a bar fight and is arrested. Mattie uses her house for collateral, but Basil forfeits this when he disappears. Mattie must give up her house and is forced to live in Brewster Place.

Etta Johnson, Mattie’s childhood friend, soon joins her at Brewster Place. Etta has spent her life running from one man to the next, and dreams of stability. Mattie takes her to church, and Etta is smitten by the Reverend Woods. He is charming, good looking, and wealthy, but after they sleep together, Etta feels empty. Her spirit is restored when she sees Mattie waiting up at home for her safe return.

Kiswana Browne has chosen to live in Brewster Place voluntarily. She was raised in an affluent community but dropped out of college to live there, where she believes she can effect real social change in the black community. Her mother is visiting, and the two argue. Kiswana calls her mother a white-man’s nigger, who responds by explaining the origin of Kiswana’s name, including her pride in that heritage. She leaves, but not before secretly leaving some money for Kiswana.

Lucielia Louis Turner, or Ciel, is Ms. Eva’s granddaughter. She grew up with Mattie and her son, and now has a daughter of her own, Serena, from a man named Eugene. He constantly leaves Ciel and mistreats Serena. He also secretly tricks Ciel into aborting her second would-be child with him. The couple is arguing when Serena chases a roach into an electric socket with a fork, and is electrocuted, dying. Eugene leaves again, and Ciel is practically lifeless with grief. Again, Mattie helps, rocking her back and forth until she falls asleep crying.

Cora Lee loves children, and has many of them with many different men. She lives in a dirty apartment, neglects the children she already has, only caring for them while they are babies. Kiswana sees one of them eating from the garbage one day, and tries to help Cora Lee. She invites her to a play in the park, and Cora Lee is moved. She begins to care for her children properly, cleans her house, and imagines a better future. When she returns home, however, there is an unnamed man waiting for her. She drops her clothes and goes to him right away.

Lorraine and Theresa are a lesbian couple, unjustifiably feared by the other residents. One woman, Sophie, spreads nasty rumours about them constantly, and Lorraine is hurt. Theresa says she doesnot care what people say, while Lorraine tries to involve herself in the community, but Sophie attacks her at a tenant meeting. Lorraine leaves in tears, and an old janitor named Ben consoles her by telling his story. Ben’s daughter was a prostitute, forced into it by a white landlord and ignored by her parents when it happened.

Lorraine gains some confidence from her newly found friendship. She goes to a party after fighting with Theresa, and gets lost in a dark alley on the way home. A group of young men gang rape her and leave her for dead. She gets up as the sun is rising, sees Ben, and smashes his skull in with a brick.

After Ben’s death, the block party is cancelled, and Mattie dreams about rain drenching the building. Then, during the party, it rains, and all but the women run for shelter. The women all begin to tear at the wall where Ben died, trying to take all the bricks away with blood on them. Mattie wakes up, and it is a beautiful, sunny day. Brewster Place is condemned and abandoned, and everyone is forced to move.