The Women of Brewster Place | Study Guide

Gloria Naylor

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The Women of Brewster Place | The Two | Summary

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Summary

When Lorraine and Theresa move to Brewster Place, people initially take little notice of them. They are simply the two new tenants. Their neighbors accept them as "nice girls" disinterested in other women's men. Then a rumor starts and spreads like a yellow mist through the buildings: The two are lovers. Lorraine, a schoolteacher and the more sensitive of the two women, is the first to notice the change in her neighbors. She and Theresa have run from this before, seeking refuge from the homophobic world. The idea that once again their private lives will be the subject of gossip is disheartening. Theresa personally does not care what others think of her. "Who in the hell are they?" she demands. But the effect of their shunning on Lorraine causes a rift in the relationship.

The issue is shoved into the open at the first meeting of the Brewster Place Block Association, organized by Kiswana. A woman named Sophie, who lives across from "those two," tries to bring up their right to live "amongst decent people." Etta and Mattie quiet her for a time, until Lorraine joins the meeting. Then Sophie loudly announces that she is not wanted there and why. It seems as if all the air goes out of the room.

Humiliated, Lorraine flees the meeting, but is followed by Ben, the alcoholic building superintendent. Trembling and too distressed to go home, she allows Ben to guide her to his damp underground rooms. There, he brings her tea and shyly tells her, "You remind me lots of my little girl." The ice broken, they begin to talk, touching on the broken dreams that have brought each of them to Brewster Place. They discover they each have lost track of a loved one somewhere in "a world with no address."

Lorraine begins to visit Ben for long chats. With him, she finds comfort and a sense of peace. In his damp, ugly basement, she no longer feels like a freak, but a human being. Yet rather than let Lorraine draw strength and reassurance from this new relationship, Theresa tears apart her illusion that she can be the same as everyone else. One night they quarrel, and Theresa pitilessly reminds Lorraine that she is a lesbian, and in a straight world, "it's them and us, Sister—them and us. And that spells different!"

Following the quarrel, Lorraine goes alone to a party, but leaves early. On the walk home, she cuts through an alley, intending to visit Ben. Too late, she catches the scent of marijuana and realizes that the local gang is hanging out in the shadows. Within moments, she is surrounded and the gang of six, led by C.C. Baker, attacks. Lorraine is brutally raped and left unconscious and near death among the garbage cans and litter in the alley. When she comes to, her mind is gone, and in that pain-filled crazed state, she drags herself down the alley. Ben—who has been drinking heavily—lies in her path. Possibly mistaking him for her attackers, Lorraine murders her friend—just as Mattie frantically arrives to stop her.

Analysis

Most women in Brewster Place are welcomed into the protective circle of the community. Each relies on the kinship of others for friendship, love, and strength. This inclusion is denied to Theresa and Lorraine, whose sexual orientation is deemed a threat to the community. Yet, the malicious gossip that spreads like a yellow vapor through the community is more poisonous and menacing than whatever its members fear from the lesbian couple in their midst. The malignant, injurious nature of the women's homophobia blinds most of them to the fundamental decency of the couple and the loving relationship they share. By denying the two the support and protection of the community, the women leave them vulnerable and alone in a dangerous world. In this chapter, the women of Brewster Place behave at their worst. Consequently, they collectively share the guilt of Lorraine's rape and Ben's murder.

Theresa and Lorraine move to Brewster Place with the dream of escaping the homophobia that has haunted their lives. They have moved several times, and this decaying housing development is their last chance. While the world's disdain hangs heavily on Lorraine's shoulders, Theresa has little interest in what other people think. She defines herself as a lesbian and, with an air of proud defiance, insists this makes her different. She uses the analogy of a cookie to drive home her point, explaining that no matter how you try to disguise it, a cookie is a cookie, and nothing else. In African American slang, cookies are a reference to female genitalia. Therefore, Theresa is reducing her identity to her sexual orientation.

Lorraine, on the other hand, rejects the label. She is convinced that she is more than this; that it is only society's unfair judgment that denies her a fuller life and status in the population's mainstream. Despite her sexual orientation, she is a human being: "somebody's daughter or somebody's friend." This conviction is one reason she is drawn to Ben, who accepts her and treats her like a daughter—not a "freak."

When Sophie's homophobic diatribe at the Brewster Place Block Association meeting wounds Lorraine, it is Ben's concern and kind words that lift the searing blanket of humiliation and soothe her pain. In Ben, Lorraine finds more than a comforting friend. She finds a pseudo-father who helps her emotionally reconnect with the father who disowned her when she was 17. In turn, Lorraine becomes a pseudo-daughter to Ben, standing in for the child he failed to help and eventually lost to "a world with no address." Their friendship serves to ease Ben's guilt and to strengthen Lorraine as she deals with the "yellow mist" of gossip. Theirs is the only wholesome male/female relationship in the novel.

In contrast to the earlier story about Ciel, which ends with healing, "The Two" ends with the utter destruction of innocence and with death. The human predators who attack and rape Lorraine represent males seeking validation in a world in which they feel themselves to be powerless and invisible. They are limited to proving themselves to each other, and they do so by viciously ruling an alley just six feet wide. As they defile Lorraine's body, they destroy her physically, mentally, and spiritually. All that is left of the person she was are her eyes screaming for help. Her last words are "Please. Please." It is a cry from the soul of a human being who wanted nothing more than to be loved, included, and not hurt.

Finally, as the story progresses, the relationship represented by the chapter title "The Two" shifts from Lorraine and Theresa to Lorraine and Ben. Then it shifts once more when Mattie attempts to stop Ben's murder. Her screams ricochet in Lorraine's head as she and the deranged woman share this moment of horror. Now "the two" are Lorraine and Mattie.

Ben is killed with a brick from the dead-end wall of Brewster Place. His death and the wall, which symbolizes all that afflicts the community, connect the final moments of this chapter to "The Block Party."

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