Synopsis[ edit ] Book 1. Silla is a strict, no-nonsense woman whose goal is to save enough money to purchase the brownstone they are leasing. Deighton is lackadaisical, impulsive, and he frequently cheats on his wife. His dreams of returning to Barbados and his frivolousness are a source of tension between Silla and him.

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Cheever and Baldwin depict New York as a place of stark divide; Marshall captures complex and confusing overlappings that collectively make and unmake her young black protagonist, Selina Boyce. Coming of age like Marshall herself as the daughter of Barbadian immigrants in the s, Selina experiences a New York continually quivering under crisscrossed and ever-moving lines—lines of color but also of class, gender, nationality, sexuality, and age. My own strategy was to turn my youthful alienations into intellectual pursuits.

I arrived at graduate school wondering why the diverse lower-income suburb from which I hailed did not resemble those that Cheever loved and Baldwin reproached. How did the tropes for describing the suburbs first emerge and what work did they do? Answering that question would prove central to my academic life.

Although the word suburb never appears in Brown Girl, Brownstones, the novel proves much better at evoking the longing that produced the suburbs than much of the literature actually set there.

For one, Marshall renders white flight as something more akin to white haunting and hanging on. What goes around comes around. After performing an inspired dance solo, Selina is cut down to size by the mother of a white classmate. By contrast, this woman belittles Selina to assure herself of the remaining power her whiteness still wields in the city—even as her peers think of Cheever are rapidly leaving for greener pastures.

However, Brown Girl, Brownstones is equally devoted to capturing the intricacies of black becoming within a largely black world. Selina and her sister weather the fierce battles waged between their elegant, idle, and increasingly broken father and their sharp-tongued, willful, and differently injured mother.

Only when she herself experiences this sort of racial injury can she glimpse how deeply that pain has maimed her own parents. The hurtful alienation existing between Selina and her parents was and remains a marvel to me, a revelation. Then there is Clive, the dreamy black bohemian painter with whom Selina has her first love affair.

But Marshall draws Clive just as richly as she depicts Selina. But he loves Selina without jealousy or violence for all that she is. But the first books of these two writers, while both about black girlhood in America, could not be more different. We need both of these portraits, and many more. Brown girls can navel-gaze, find themselves through modern dance, and fall in love with dashingly wounded painters. Brown Girl, Brownstones proved that such journeys—so precious to their protagonists, yet so everyday, so ordinary—had a vital place in the black experience.


Paule Marshall

The brownstones of the title are the houses which members of the community aspire to owning. It is a coming of age novel and revolves around Selina Boyce and her mother Silla; two wonderfully created characters who are the most memorable parts of the novel. Silla has very clear aims for her daughters and for her 4. Silla has very clear aims for her daughters and for her own life; owning a brownstone being a priority.


Brown Girl, Brownstones



B-Sides: Paule Marshall’s “Brown Girl, Brownstones”


GRI 6644 PDF


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