Published on February 1, 2014
Brown Girl, Brownstones By Paule Marshall CAPE Literatures in English Unit 2 By Lyniss Pitt
The Author: Paule Marshall Paule Marshall (born April 9, 1929) is an American author. She was born Valenza Pauline Burke in Brooklyn to Barbadian parents and educated at Girls High School, Brooklyn College (1953) and Hunter College (1955). Early in her career, she wrote poetry, but later returned to prose. She was chosen by Langston Hughes to accompany him on a world tour in which they both read their work, which was a boon to her career. Marshall has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Yale University before holding the Helen Gould Sheppard Chair of Literature and Culture at New York University. In 1993 she received an honorary L.H.D. from Bates College. She lives in Richmond, Va. She is a MacArthur Fellow and is a past winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. She was designated as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1994. Marshall was inducted into the Celebrity Path at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 2001. Her memoir, Triangular Road, was published in 2009.
Setting The setting for Brown Girl, Brownstones is Brooklyn, New York, in the 1930s and 1940s. Selina's family, and many families like them, lease or own brownstone houses, having moved in after wealthy white people decided that the area was too rough. There are quiet areas, like the street where Selina lives, but the city is teeming with all different sorts of people engaging in all different sorts of activities. New York's urban juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly can be seen in descriptions like, "But despite the ruin, spring stirred and, undaunted, arrayed the trees, hung its mist curtain high and, despite the wine-stench, sweetened the air" (Book 4, Selina, chap. 11, p. 309). This also indicates the spiritual setting of the book, in that despair and pain come to the characters, but they can still grow in such harsh circumstances.
Brown Girl, Brownstones-Plot Summary Selina Boyce is the younger daughter of a family of immigrants from Barbados. In the 1930s, the Boyce family lives in a brownstone house in Brooklyn, which they share with several other tenants. Like other immigrants from the West Indies, the Boyces hope to someday buy a house as the ultimate status symbol that they have made it in America. Ten-year-old Selina does not get along with her harsh, shrewish mother, Silla, who is always yelling and complaining about everyone. Instead, Selina enjoys spending time with her happy-go-lucky father, Deighton. Deighton is charming and fun-loving, and he is always half-heartedly training for some career, which never seems to work out. Silla works hard cleaning houses, complaining that her husband is a lazy adulterer, her daughter Ina is a sneak, and Selina is tomboyish, loud, and contrary. Years ago, they also had a baby boy who died, and Selina always feels that her mother wishes Selina were her son. One day, Deighton receives news that he has inherited a plot of land in Barbados. Silla immediately urges him to sell it so they can buy their house, but Deighton wants to hold on to the land. They argue for months, and finally, Silla vows that she will find a way to get that money. When World War II breaks out, Silla goes to work in a defense factory. She forges Deighton's signature and sells the land behind his back. When the money comes from the sale of the land, Deighton blows all of it in a shopping spree for his family, buying fine clothes and toys. Silla is enraged. One day, Deighton is in an accident at the factory where he works, and he loses the use of his arm. When he returns from the hospital, he seems detached from reality, and he only talks about Peace. Eventually, Selina discovers that her father has joined a cult called the Peace Movement, who worship a man named Father Peace as God. Deighton tells his family that he is moving out to live with the Peace Movement. Silla is so angry that she sends the police after him in order to deport him as an illegal alien and send him back to Barbados. On the way there, he jumps overboard and drowns. Silla tries to get Selina to go to college, become a doctor, and join the Barbadian Association. Selina hates the hypocrisy and clannishness of the Association, but she meets a man there named Clive and loses her virginity to him. Selina decides that she will work hard for the Association's scholarship and will use the money to run away with Clive. Although she wins it, she refuses to accept, knowing she does not deserve it. Instead, she decides to let her dancing skill and her wits support her, and she embarks alone into the world as a young woman.
A Coming of Age Novel "Brown Girl, Brownstones" can be classified as a bildungsroman. The Bildungsroman or "formation novel" is a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. Change is thus extremely important. A Bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society.
Selina Boyce’s Timeline _______________________________________ Age 18- 21 Age 10-12 Selina fantasizes about the white family that lived in the house where her family now resides. She lives within the cocoon of her family and close knit community even with all its dysfunction. Age 12-14 Selina visits Prospect Park with her friend Beryl and they speak of puberty and transitioning into womanhood. Neither is very clear about the process at this stage. Age 15-17 War breaks out both literally and metaphorically as Deighton and Silla struggle over the “land.” In the end, Silla sells it through illegal means, Deighton spends all the proceeds on gifts, Deighton hurts his arm on his job, finds “Peace” and is deported to Barbados after his wife reports him as an illegal alien. He then commits suicide and Selina is plunged into mourning. Selina attends college but in a “fugue” state due to her grief, she visits The Association after promising Miss Thompson that she would do so. There she meets Clive and loses her virginity. She returns to The Association under false pretenses to gain access to the scholarship so that she and Clive could get away from their respective mothers. As the affair progresses, she also finds real interest at college and joins the Dance Club. She becomes good enough to perform a solo and meets the parent of one of the performers who for the first time confronts Selina with the reality of racism. She refuses the scholarship, breaks with Clive and her mother and goes out into the world as an independent person.
Friends: • • • • • Florrie Trotman Iris Hurley Virgie Farnum The Challenors Seon Braithwaite Friends: The Boyce Family • m. Silla Ina The concubine on Fulton Street Deighton Selina Friends: Friends: • Edgar Innis • • • • • • Relationships Beryl Challenor Miss Thompson Suggie Skeete Miss Mary Clive Springer Rachel Fine
Narrative Technique & Style Brown Girl, Brownstones is divided into four books and is told by a third-person narrator, who has access to the inner thoughts of a few characters. Most of the book is seen through Selina's eyes, but sometimes the view shifts to someone like Miss Thompson, or Suggie. Once in a while, the narrator foreshadows something that is going to happen by using symbolic imagery, such as emphasizing the end of spring and the end of the day, to show that Selina and Clive's relationship is nearing its end, but for the most part, the future is a mystery. Often Selina's point of view takes a fanciful turn, and she imagines herself as other people. For example, she identifies with Suggie after they drink rum together, as the narrator says, "On her way downstairs, the rum coiling hot in her stomach, she felt that she, like Suggie, carried the sun inside her" (Book 2, Pastorale, p. 52). Selina's imagination enlarges her viewpoint, allowing her to imagine being Suggie or containing the sun, but also it helps her identify with people from different walks of life, such as Miss Mary, or Miss Thompson. Selina's point of view is an important combination of Barbadian immigrant and native-born American. Selina has grown up surrounded by people of her own race, and until she comes face to face with patronizing racism, she does not realize how many white people view her. When her point of view is suddenly expanded, she realizes that "their idea of her was only an illusion, yet so powerful that it would stalk her down the years, confront her in each mirror and from the safe circle of their eyes, surprise her even in the gleaming surface of a table" (Book 4, Selina, chap. 9, p. 291). On the other hand, Selina enjoys her West Indian heritage, taking delight in dancing to Barbadian calypso. Most of the text in Brown Girl, Brownstones is written in straightforward prose, with richly metaphorical descriptions. The Bajan language, its colourful dialect, is used to show the difference in the mindset between those who have moved to America and are attempting to fulfill the American Dream and those who are more laid back e.g. Suggie, Deighton…
Structural Devices • • • • • • • • stream of consciousness interior monologue flashback foreshadowing chapter organization time frame motif juxtaposition.
Literary Devices • Motifs- e.g. War • Symbols- e.g. The brownstones symbolize confinement, regimentation (to Selina), attainment of The American Dream (to Silla and other Bajan families), the land symbolizes a return to the homeland and traditions of Barbados • Imagery- architectural-houses, rooms, the brownstones…; seasonal • Metaphors • Allusions-literary, mythological, Biblical, musical… • Juxtaposition • Irony • Satire • Humour
Themes • • • • • • • • • • Racism Immigration/Making a new life Loyalty to self, family, community Loss Generational conflict between mothers and daughters/sons Coming of Age Relationships Dreams v/s Reality Identity/Individuality and how it is created/developed Belonging
The Dance of Life-Birth to Death Selina’s dance is an expression of her quest to prove her uniqueness and individuality. Her dance is an affirmation of her response to Clive’s viewpoint that “he comes alone from birth and goes alone to death. So while he’s around he wants his share of the bread and circuses, and above all he wants something to hide under. He says to hell with autonomy. He says take that crap about individuality and shove it.” Her dance and her choice of it in the end is a symbol of her loud protest that “…there are some who don’t say that” and who choose instead to make their own way in life and to carve out their own niche.
Bibliography • • • • • • • • • http://biography.yourdictionary.com/paule-burke-marshall http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-brown-girl-brownstones2/ http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Bildungsroman.html http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/hader1.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Girl,_Brownstones http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/paule-marshall/ http://prezi.com/dcwmys8dcoop/brown-girl-brownstones/ http://www.slideshare.net/dylanangel/paule-marshall http://www.inflibnet.ac.in/ojs/index.php/JLCMS/article/viewFile/42/40
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