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The Women of Brewster Place | Quotes


Brewster Place was the bastard child of ... meetings between the alderman ... and the ... [r]ealty [c]ompany.

Narrator, Dawn

This description introduces Brewster Place, establishes its clandestine origins, and foreshadows the dead-end it will become physically and spiritually for its inhabitants. It is a place of questionable heritage to house people categorized by ethnicity and culture as "less than" by white society.


Eating cane is like living. ... You gotta ... stop trying to wrench [out] every ... bit of sweetness.

Butch Fuller, Mattie Michael

Mattie Michael and Butch Fuller have gone off alone to cut sugarcane and gather herbs. Butch begins his premeditated seduction of Mattie by describing his special way of eating cane. His description also provides a metaphor for his philosophy of life and relationships with women. He never stays long enough with any woman to risk things going sour, but always leaves while the relationship is still sweet. Thereafter, all that lingers in women's memories of him is the sweetness. Over the years, the smell of sugarcane will conjure up in Mattie's memory that summer day with Butch as well as its consequences.


She held on tightly ... because she realized ... this was all she would ever have.

Narrator, Mattie Michael

Mattie Michael's afternoon with Butch Fuller leaves her pregnant with his child. Her father assumes the person responsible is the suitor he selected for his daughter—Fred Watson. Forced to tell him that Fred is not responsible, Mattie feels them both hit with a whirlwind of emotions that "explode[s] both of their hearts into uncountable pieces." Intuition tells her that the damage is irreversible and life as she knew it is over. From now on, she and the baby growing inside her will be alone in the world.


Rock Vale had no place for a black woman ... unwilling to play by the rules.

Narrator, Etta Mae Johnson

This description of the "unwilling" Etta Mae Johnson explains the reason she leaves her segregated hometown of Rock Vale, Tennessee. It also describes the blueprint for the unconventional life she leads. Etta lives life on her own terms. She breaks the rules, refuses to be submissive to anyone—black or white—and shies away from marriage, motherhood, and even long-term relationships. In other words, she refuses to play the game as it has been set up by others.


Face it, Mattie. All the good men are either dead or waiting to be born.

Etta Mae Johnson, Etta Mae Johnson

Since leaving Rock Vale, Tennessee, Etta has been searching for her niche in the world. That search has led her to "hook herself to any promising rising black star," and when he burns out, she finds another. Over the years, disappointment has become disillusionment. That, in turn, has grown into the cynical view that there are no good men to be found. Etta fails to examine her own role in this heartbreaking state of affairs and continues to make bad choices that confirm her assessment.


I am alive because of ... proud people who never ... apologized for what they were.

Mrs. Browne, Kiswana Browne

In a confrontation with her mother over her choice to live on Brewster Place, Kiswana Browne accuses her of being "a white man's nigger who's ashamed of being black." Mrs. Browne sets her daughter straight with this description of their ancestry, further explaining that "they lived asking only one thing of this world—to be allowed to be." It's on these same terms that Mrs. Browne meets the world, defining herself by the life she leads, and not by the color of her skin or the texture of her hair. She has tried to prepare her children to meet the world the same way.


Better teach her your name ... She'll be using it more.

Mattie Michael, Lucielia Louise Turner

Talking to Mattie, Ciel has been painting a rosy picture of the return of her common-law husband, Eugene. She tells Mattie that their little daughter, Serena, even knows her daddy's name. Mattie offers this gentle warning, aware of the kind of man Eugene is. Tragically, her warning is prophetic, although imperfectly so. Within a few months, Eugene will abruptly leave Ciel, but Serena will be dead.


Ciel ... was forced to ... give up the life that God ... refused to take from her.

Narrator, Lucielia Louise Turner

Every dream Ciel held dear has been smashed. Her baby daughter is dead, her pregnancy has been terminated, and her common-law husband is gone. Her universe has shrunk to "the seven feet of space between herself and her child's narrow coffin," and that universe is filled with pain. Ciel takes to her bed, refusing to eat, drink, or even bathe, and waits for the relief from spiritual, psychological, and physical pain that death offers. It will take Mattie's fierce love and compassion to coax her back to life.


'But babies grow up.'

Kiswana Browne, Cora Lee

Cora Lee loves babies. She loves making them, giving birth to them, and caring for them. However, problems begin when they start growing up, and as Kiswana gently observes, babies always grow up. The comment haunts Cora Lee, who, up until now, has failed to consciously connect these dots. It prompts her to accept Kiswana's invitation to take the children to see A Midsummer Night's Dream performed in the park. It also sparks a dream that grows under the magic spell of the play. Cora Lee determines to be a better mother and help her babies grow up to be happy, successful adults. Sadly, that dream is short lived.


A rumor needs no true parent. It only needs a willing carrier.

Narrator, The Two

When Lorraine and Theresa move to Brewster Place, they are initially accepted as "nice girls" who pose no threat to other women and their men. Then the rumor starts that they are lesbian lovers and spreads through the block "like a sour odor." Who started it is unknown, but the "willing carrier" is Sophie, who lives across from the women's apartment and becomes "the official watchman for the block." It is she who builds upon the rumor and relays to others twisted innuendos about the women, based on her spying.


Some women ... loved me more and did more for me than any man ever did.

Mattie Michael, The Two

Mattie is speaking to Etta as she tries to come to terms with the revelation that Lorraine and Theresa are partners who love each other. According to her religious beliefs, there is something wrong with the relationship, yet she can't quite define it. In her personal life, the love and friendship of women has been vital and far more dependable than anything offered by a man. While Mattie's confusion stems from religious belief, she shows more Christian charity in her assessment of the two women than do others, like self-righteous and unforgiving Sophie.


Those other ... tight jeans, suede sneakers, and tinted sunglasses imaged nearby proved ... they were alive.

Narrator, The Two

Brewster Place is terrorized by C.C. Baker and his gang. They have claimed the alley along the wall as their territory. Like others who have come to Brewster Place, they are leading dead-end lives, and belonging to the gang is the only way they can somehow feel alive and present in the world. In the eyes of the other gang members, each sees himself recognized and validated. And as long as there is life, there can still be dreams, although their juvenile dreams are of a heaven "populated by their gods—Shaft and Superfly," the ultimate crime-fighting detective and an infamous drug dealer. It is C.C. Baker and his gang who will brutalize and rape Lorraine to prove their collective manhood.


There's still blood on this wall ... It just ain't right. It shouldn't still be here.

Cora Lee, The Block Party

The fundraising block party is in full swing when the sky darkens and a cold wind sweeps down the street. A rainstorm swiftly follows just as Cora Lee notices that bricks along the base of the wall are stained with blood from the brutal rape of Lorraine and murder of Ben. Her cries alert the other women, and soon a frenzied attempt to pull out the bloodied bricks turns into an all-out effort to tear down the entire bloodied wall. The wall becomes a symbol for everything that has stood in their way and murdered their dreams.


No one cries when a street dies.

Narrator, Dusk

For generations, Brewster Place has provided the setting in which tenants played out their lives. Like a living organism, it has watched their comings and goings and has "given what it could—all it could" until "there was just no more." Now abandoned and condemned decades after its creation, Brewster Place waits to die. In its deserted state, there is no one left to care.


[Brewster's] colored daughters ... still wake up with their dreams misted on the edge of a yawn.

Narrator, Dusk

Brewster Place, now deserted, has been more than just a street or an urban housing development. It has been home to generations of people hanging on at the fringe of society—people who watched their dreams crumble. Its walls are permeated with "the odors of hope, despair, lust, and caring." While Brewster Place waits to die, the last of its "Afric" children carry its memories away with them. They also carry the remnants of their dreams, fragile as the mist at dawn, but still a part of their lives.

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