“Brown Girl Brown Stones” by Paule Marshall  » Books  »
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  • Therefore, Selina’s mother is representative of the other side of her internal struggle over the issue of personal identity, the side which rejects the Bajan community in order to assimilate into the broader spectrum of the American community

    • by Valerie

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      Paule Marshall’s “Brown Girl Brown Stones” signifies cultural confusion in relation to community in a similar manner. Much like the protagonist of “Paper Fish”, Selina is forced into a tumultuous struggle over the concept of personal identity, which is both restricted as well as supported by her Bajan community located among the brownstones in Brooklyn. Selina’s struggle is internal, at times she appears to embrace her Bajan heritage while other moments portray a very different Selina who appears to reject that very heritage for a more broad sense of personal identity outside of the Bajan community. However, it can be argued that her internal struggle which pursues throughout the novel is represented externally through the characters of her parents, Deighton and Silla. Selina’s father Deighton is perpetually reminiscing about life in Barbados and attempting to persuade the family to move back to his home country.

      This is indicative of the fact that Deighton is representative of the part of Selina that attempts to embrace her Bajan heritage. Silla on the other hand rejects her husband’s wishes entirely and retains unabbreviated focus on her goal, “to make a down payment on the old brownstone in which they live” (191). Therefore, Selina’s mother is representative of the other side of her internal struggle over the issue of personal identity, the side which rejects the Bajan community in

      order to assimilate into the broader spectrum of the American community. The community itself, encompassed by the ancillary characters which exist throughout the novel act as the mediating factor through which Selina ultimately discovers and embraces her personal identity.

      Unlike Carmolina of “Paper Fish”, Selina’s community encompasses people of different racial backgrounds and in turn assists her in resolving the cultural confusion that plagues her. When Selina is interrogated by her friend Margaret’s mother, she bcomes blatantly aware of the prejudice which has always existed but never directly aimed toward the purpose of hurting her as it does at this moment. Margaret’s mother tells Selina, “you can’t help your color”. In this case, Margaret’s mother becomes representative of the community and it is at this moment that Selina becomes aware of the prejudice that exists in regard to her Bajan heritage.

      The woman is initially confused due to the fact that she is unable to determine the exact geographic location of Selina’s heritage due to the notion that she does not have an accent. Selina is confused by this aspect of the interrogation for two reasons. First, she does not understand why this matters. Second, she does not understand why she is expected to have an accent due to the fact that she was born in the United States which makes her first and foremost an American.

      When Selina explains that she is Bajan,

      • Margaret’s mother begins a tangent about a housekeeper she once had of similar descent. The woman proceeds to claim that the people from this geographic locale are wonderful because you don’t even have to worry about them stealing from you, implying that African Americans from other locations are likely to be thieves. Selina is shocked as she begins to arrive at the blatant realization that this woman who is representative of the community would utter such things, indicative of the fact that other members of the community must be thinking similar thoughts. Margaret’s mother even has the nerve to say, “You don’t even act black”.

        Through this conversation, Selina begins to understand why her father so desperately wanted to return to Barbados. She also begins to understand the reasons behind her mothers dedicated hard work. Both of her parents were attempting to escape the harsh realities of mainstream America and the prejudice that exists within it against colored people like herself and her family. However, each of her parents attempted to achieve this similar goal through different modes.

        Deighton wished to escape entirely from the disturbing prejudice against all colored people by moving back to Barbados where such prejudice is nonexistent. Silla on the other hand wishes to escape this prejudice by rising above it and proving herself in a world where people of her descent are expected to fail.

        It is at this

        moment that Selina begins to understand all of these difficult concepts and she feels, “knowing was like dying”. However, she had to “know” before she could relieve her cultural confusion.

        Prior to this conversation Selina was caught in an internal struggle between embracing her Bajan heritage and rejecting it. After “knowing” and understanding what her community really thought of her, Selina is finally able to resolve this confusion by embracing her heritage entirely and removing herself from that community. Prior to this conversation this was not even mentioned as a possible option, but after “knowing”, it appears as the only plausible option. Carmolina BellaCasa and Selina Boyce are both plagued by cultural confusion as a result of their immigrant identity.

        In both cases community plays a large role in this cultural confusion in which it acts both supportively as well as restrictively. In Carmolina’s case, her community attempts to support her by protecting her from the prejudice of mainstream America yet restricts her by isolating her from life outside of her Italian American neighborhood. In Selina’s case, community restricts her by making her feel like an outsider whose status is lower as a result of her Bajan descent yet supports her by giving her the knowledge and the strength to rise above this prejudice. The protagonists of each work are able to embrace their cultural identity and accept it as personal identity in the end.

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    The review was published as it's written by reviewer in December, 2009. The reviewer certified that no compensation was received from the reviewed item producer, trademark owner or any other institution, related with the item reviewed. The site is not responsible for the mistakes made. 172612930200931/k2311a1226/12.26.09
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