Brownies Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 22-page guide for the short story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer includes detailed summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like social hierarchies and coming of age.
“Brownies” is the first story in ZZ Packer’s debut collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. The story is set at Camp Crescendo, a summer camp in the American South, in the 1980s. “Brownies” is narrated by “Snot,” a member of the black Brownie troop attending Camp Crescendo. The narrator’s real name is Laurel.
The story’s plot concerns whether a girl in another Brownie troop at Camp Crescendo, an all-white troop known as Troop 909, has called one of the girls in Snot’s group a “nigger.” Other girls in Snot’s Brownie troop vow to get revenge on Troop 909, with members of Snot’s group deciding they will ambush the Troop 909 girls in the camp restrooms that evening.
As Snot’s group disembarks their bus upon reaching Camp Crescendo, they view Troop 909 from afar. Arnetta, the unofficial leader of Snot’s group, says of Troop 909, “‘Man, did you smell them?…They smell like Chihuahuas. Wet Chihuahuas” (2). Octavia, another girl in Snot’s Brownie troop, who is also the daughter of Mrs. Hedy, the parent helper for the Troop, responds first with “Serious Chihuahuas,” and then “Caucasian Chihuahuas” (3).
Along with Mrs. Hedy, the Brownie troop is chaperoned by Mrs. Margolin, the troop leader. The other, vital members of Snot’s troop, in addition to Arnetta and Octavia, are Janice and Daphne. Two more minor characters, Drema and Elise, also make appearances in the story, though they rarely speak.
Janice is described as “country,” and Packer presents her as lacking intelligence and always willing to do the bidding of Arnetta and Octavia, who secretly make fun of her.
Daphne is the most like Snot of all of the members of the troop, and may be viewed as Snot’s doppelganger. Largely silent throughout the story—and said to be this way nearly all the time—Daphne wrote the prize-winning poem for Langston Hughes Day at the girl’s school.
Arnetta asks Daphne whether or not she heard a member of Troop 909, the Caucasian Brownie troop, call Daphne a nigger. Daphne first shrugs her shoulders, and then nods. Arnetta then decides that their Brownie troop must take revenge on the girls of Troop 909; the use of this racial slur is unacceptable. The rest of the group is silent after Arnetta voices her opinion, then looks toward Daphne, the supposed victim of the slur, for guidance about what to do. Daphne ignores the stares and pretends to be engrossed in her Girl Scout handbook. Finally, Janice breaks the silence and decides the troop will sneak into Troop 909’s cabin and “‘beat ‘em up till they’re as flat as frying pans!” (8).
Arnetta declares the troop will hold a secret meeting, in order to decide if and how to exact revenge on Troop 909. The troop spends the next day figuring out the proper place to ambush the girls of Troop 909. Unwittingly, Snot provides the location for the ambush, saying, “‘the only time they’ll be unsupervised is in the bathroom’” (11). Arnetta realizes that the bathroom will indeed be the perfect place to carry out the troop’s plan.
The troop hikes to the camp bathroom, to scope out the location. Snot describes the building as looking “almost the same as it had the night before, it somehow seemed stranger now. We hadn’t noticed the wooden rafters coming together in great V’s. We were, it seemed, inside a whale, viewing the ribs of the roof of its mouth” (12).
Arnetta explains that she and Octavia will enter the bathroom when the Troop 909 girls are there and pretend to be nice to them, before they “‘tell them what happens when they call any of us a nigger’” (12). Janice insists that she’ll say something as well. Arnetta, in a flippant manner, says, “Sure” (13). Snot, playing devil’s advocate, asks Arnetta what happens if the girls of Troop 909 deny the accusation. Arnetta tells Snot,…