In Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones (1953), is one of the most psychologically complex female African American fictional characters since Janie Crawford in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha (Maud Martha, 1953). Selina is a young woman of two worlds, two cultures. Born in the United States of Barbadian parentage, she must somehow bridge the gap between two identities that are often in conflict. Paule Marshall explores Selina's cultural identity crisis through the often ambivalent and volatile feelings she has toward members of the surrounding “Bajan” (Barbadian) community (and especially her mother), who exert strong pressure upon her to conform to their ideas concerning their position as immigrants in American society, as opposed to her father, who rejects the kinds of culturally and spiritually draining behavior that the pursuit of the American dream can inflict upon anyone not strong enough to withstand its pressures.
Selina, as a young woman, must carefully navigate herself between two worlds in order to utilize the best of both. By the end of the novel, she realizes that it was never a question of either/or in terms of her cultural identity. She learns that it is only the best of both her American and Barbadian cultures that has made her strong and that will continue to sustain her.
Geta J. Leseure, “Brown Girl, Brownstones as a Novel of Development,” Obsidian II1 (1986): 119–129.
—Keith Bernard Mitchell