The Men of Brewster Place
is a 1998 novel by African-American writer Gloria Naylor. A commentary on gender roles and inequality, it is a follow-up to her related book, The Women of Brewster Place
. Considered a highly allegorical work, it portrays a group of men brought together by chance to a barbershop on an urban street called Brewster Place. The seven men – Abshu, Ben, C.C. Baker, Brother Jerome, Basil, Eugene, and Moreland T. Woods – work through problems of masculinity and Black identity in their vastly unjust society, becoming the “sons of Brewster Place.” The novel explores the men’s coming to consciousness of their own faults, particularly with respect to their relationships with women, their identities, and their careers. It has been praised for humanizing the black experience in a way that is simultaneously allegorical and realistic
The novel moves back and forth between the sons of Brewster Place, exploring each of their stories and struggles. Though the men are each unique, their lives have common themes. For example, Ben’s story portrays him as a compassionate father who struggles to connect to his wife, whom he finds to be controlling. He stays in the marriage mainly because of his love for his daughter. Eventually, however, his dissatisfaction becomes too much to bear, and he begins to abuse alcohol. Having alienated his family, he ends up in Brewster Place.
The story of Brother Jerome, a musical savant, relates to many of the men. Brother Jerome has always felt prejudiced against, both because of his race and his disability. As a child, he was called “retarded.” He took refuge in listening to the blues and practicing various instruments. He ultimately found that though people might discount his words, they are enraptured by his music when he plays. For all of the sons of Brewster Place, music helps them overcome the sorrow and difficulty of the world.
Basil’s story is one such sorrowful story. Because he went to jail, jumped bail, and lost his mother the house she had posted as his bond, he has spent his life on the run and estranged from his family. Basil also grew up childless and partnerless. Once he is older, he regrets missing the chance to have a nurturing family and to feel the responsibility of caring for people. Hoping to recover what he views as a lost experience, he adopts two young boys. Fatherhood, it turns out, is not the job he has idealized for so many years.
Eugene becomes estranged from his wife after he realizes he is gay. When he opens up to her, she rejects his identity. He regrets being cast as a certain stereotype before even getting to understand his true self.
Moreland T. Woods becomes a prominent minister, helping the lives of many people in his community. When he decides to run for office and wins, he lives with the guilt of being labeled a sell-out. His success draws the wrath of Abshu, who resolves to get him thrown out of office, or even, if all else fails, to assassinate him.
Lastly, C.C. Baker tells the story of yearning to earn respect, because he grew up with a father who deserved and earned none. Unfortunately, C.C. looks to gangs and the drug trade as a source of money and power.
The novel’s culminating moment is when another man at Brewster Place, “Greasy,” commits suicide. His death brings great sorrow to the Black men, causing them to realize that their fates are all intertwined. Greasy had been someone who would openly admit his shortcomings, but always add that he was doing his best to be a good person. After his death, the sons of Brewster Place resolve to be more genuine and kind toward each other. The Men of Brewster Place
emphasizes the need for friendship and solidarity in times of spiritual struggle, oppression, and isolation.