The Women of Brewster Place | Study Guide

Gloria Naylor

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The Women of Brewster Place | Lucielia Louise Turner | Summary

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Summary

Lucielia—known as Ciel—is the granddaughter of Eva Turner, Mattie and Basil's old benefactor. She also has ended up living on Brewster Place. It's been a year since her man, Eugene, left her alone with a new baby. Now he has returned, and Ciel silently prays that he will stay. The baby, Serena, needs a father, and Ciel loves this man for reasons she can't explain.

Months pass and the relationship between Eugene and Lucielia begins to sour. Ciel is pregnant again but refuses to believe this could be the cause of their discord. Then Eugene loses his job. Turning his frustration and anger on Ciel, he tells her he's "never gonna have nothin'" with her and two kids on his back. Distraught and trying to save the relationship, Ciel secretly terminates her pregnancy.

As Ciel struggles to cope with the emotional consequences of the abortion, Eugene abruptly announces that he is leaving for a job out of state. Ciel presses him for details, but this only angers Eugene, and she realizes that his real plan is to abandon her and Serena. Suddenly, Ciel's love for Eugene evaporates and she sees him for what he is: "a ... skinny black man with arrogance and selfishness twisting his mouth into a strange shape." She knows that soon she will start to hate him. As her dreams of a family wilt, tears flood her eyes. Suddenly there's a scream from the next room where Serena has been quietly playing.

Fascinated by a cockroach, Serena had followed it into the kitchen, where it disappeared into an electric wall socket. Trying to catch the bug, Serena picked up a fork lying on the floor and poked the prongs into the socket's opening.

With the death of Serena, Ciel's desolation is complete. Refusing to eat, drink, or bathe, she waits "to slowly give up the life that God had refused to take from her." Finding Ciel like this, Mattie unconditionally rejects her pursuit of death. Patiently holding and rocking Ciel in her strong arms, Mattie wrestles the young woman back from the brink of despair, until the "nadir of her hurt" opens up to release the "evilness of pain." Then Mattie gently bathes her like a newborn child. When at last Ciel begins to cry, the tears that come are healing tears.

Analysis

This dramatic chapter provides an early—although secondary—climax for the novel. Its events illustrate with terrible intensity the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of murdered dreams. Only Lorraine's story in "The Two" exceeds Lucielia's in the scope of this destruction.

Ciel's dream is to hold on to the man she loves and to create a strong family unit. She innocently believes she can make this happen if she works hard and does things just right. Her dream blinds her to the reality that Eugene is irresponsible, immature, selfish, and faithless. In her self-delusion and optimism, she defers her desire to grow her family and gets an abortion to save the relationship. She murders one dream to save the other, not understanding which dream is real and which is an illusion.

Following the abortion, Ciel is already struggling emotionally when young Serena dies in a freak accident. Her little girl's death serves up a killing blow from which she barely recovers. Ciel's story highlights the psychological effects some women experience after terminating a pregnancy. During the abortion, Ciel tries to "keep herself completely isolated from the surroundings" and to pretend that this is happening to somebody else. She creates an "other woman" in her brain who owns the abortion. Afterward, she feels disconnected from the world around her. As she continues to repress the reality of what she has done, she suffers from post-abortive psychological problems. This deepens her emotional crisis, and she begins to yearn for death.

Serena's death and funeral take place in the spring, a season of renewal. This takes on added significance as Ciel attempts to die. Mattie's fierce and compassionate intervention helps release the despair poisoning Ciel's soul. Then in an act of maternal love, Mattie bathes Ciel like a child, symbolically washing her soul clean as she washes her body. The bathing's ceremonial aspect suggests a baptism, a religious rite signifying the rebirth of the soul. This becomes Ciel's time of renewal and—from this point forward—she will be able to heal and rebuild her life.

Cleansing water is the metaphor for Ciel's life and character. During the rice-washing episode, she tries to understand what she should do to save her relationship with Eugene. She repeatedly rinses the rice, and the water becomes clearer. Simultaneously, she grasps with growing clarity that Eugene resents her pregnancy. Yet the rice water never becomes completely clear. Ciel's understanding of Eugene's character doesn't become clear either until it is too late. Then her dream of Eugene as a reliable partner is washed from her heart by a flood of tears. She mourns "for the loss of something denied to her." Water is intrinsic to the loving ritual that restores Ciel's will to live. It's worth noting that in "The Block Party," Ciel seems to sense that rain is coming and that it brings a dreadful kind of cleansing.

Ciel is innocent of wrongdoing. Like a child, she had believed she could make her dream come true. By the end of her story, Ciel's innocence and childlike vulnerability form links to the following narrative about Cora Lee and her babies.

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