Course Hero. "The Women of Brewster Place Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Sep. 2017. Web. 22 May 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Women-of-Brewster-Place/>.
Course Hero. (2017, September 20). The Women of Brewster Place Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 22, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Women-of-Brewster-Place/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "The Women of Brewster Place Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed May 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Women-of-Brewster-Place/.
Course Hero, "The Women of Brewster Place Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed May 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Women-of-Brewster-Place/.
Brewster Place is an urban housing project built in 1918 "on some worthless land in the badly crowded district" of an unnamed city. The shady circumstances under which it is conceived foreshadow its luckless future. It first becomes home to "patriotic boys ... on the way home from the Great War." They are followed by a wave of "dark haired and mellow-skinned" Mediterraneans—immigrants relegated to the fringes of society. Then a wall goes up at the end of the block, cutting off the neighborhood from the rest of the city and strangling all hope of its prosperity. Isolated and alienated from the influences of mainstream society, Brewster Place takes on its own unique ethnic personality. At the same time, it begins to grow old. Following the civil rights movement and reflecting racial shifts in the population, African Americans—a third and final wave of tenants—drift in. Many are migrants from the South. Among these new residents are seven women—the tenants whose lives are explored in the novel.
These tenants are Mattie Michael, Etta Mae Johnson, Lucielia Louise Turner, Kiswana Browne, Cora Lee, and Lorraine and Theresa, a lesbian couple. Described as "hard-edged, soft-centered, brutally demanding, and easily pleased," the women represent a range in age and experience. Upon moving to Brewster Place, they labor "like determined spirits among its decay, trying to make it a home." As neighbors, their lives intersect and blend, nurturing friendships form, and motherly or sisterly love becomes a source of strength, resilience, and healing.
The novel's subtitle is somewhat misleading, as the novel is divided into nine parts, not seven. The prologue ("Dawn") introduces Brewster Place itself, detailing how the neighborhood came to be. Six chapters then examine the lives of featured characters, with chapter titles designating each story's primary character. The women's lives overlap, interlacing their stories, and they appear in supporting roles in each other's narratives. For example, Mattie Michael, as the matriarch of Brewster Place, appears in all but Kiswana Browne's featured story. In turn, Kiswana makes an important appearance in the narratives of Cora Lee and "the two"—Lorraine and Theresa. Following the individual tenants' stories, a seventh chapter ("The Block Party") unites them in a singular event, and an epilogue ("Dusk") describes the street's eventual demise.
As readers grow acquainted with the women of the neighborhood, Brewster Place becomes a microcosm of black womanhood, reflecting variations in experience across generations. Out of shared suffering the women weave valuable, powerful bonds that allow them to survive. Then, "like an ebony phoenix," they each rise, salvage the remnants of their dreams, and move on. The reference to a phoenix is an allusion to the mythical bird that—after a long life—dies in a spectacular fire and then is reborn from the ashes of its death. Thus as each woman of Brewster Place completes her story, another begins her narrative.
The Women of Brewster Place Plot Diagram