Places: The Women of Brewster Place

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1930’s-1960’s

Places DiscussedBrewster Place

Brewster Women of Brewster Place, ThePlace. Neighborhood in a large, unnamed northern city, possibly New York, possibly Chicago. New York seems more likely since, aside from its being Gloria Naylor’s hometown, there is mention in one episode that the state of “Maine ain’t far” away. Chicago is also a possibility because one character, Etta Mae Johnson, went home to Brewster Place “with a broken nose she’d gotten in . . . St. Louis,” suggesting the distance between the two was not so great. However, the actual identity of the city is not explicitly revealed.

Brewster Place was originally conceived in the story as a way for crooked politicians and businessmen to resolve some of their personal concerns to their political and financial advantage. First Irish, then Mediterraneans, and finally African Americans came to inhabit the district. Though the neighborhood was relatively inviting at first, its streets and buildings were allowed to decline; its one through street was soon walled up to make a dead end, basically isolating the inhabitants from the rest of the city.

The dreariness of the gray tenement buildings, the oppressiveness of the wall, and the segregation make the women of Brewster Place racial, social, and economic victims. Yet they come together finally to tear down the wall, which increasingly seems a manifestation of their oppression, using “knives, plastic forks, spiked shoe heels, and even bare hands” to dismantle it. With this one symbolic act, they demonstrate their determination to change their lives for the better.

Miss Eva’s house

Miss Eva’s house. Home of Miss Eva Turner in Asheville, North Carolina, which becomes a haven for Mattie Michael and her infant son Basil. Miss Eva literally takes in Mattie, who is wandering the streets of Asheville. She gives her a home, and when she dies, she leaves the house to Mattie. Mattie, having left her own family home in Tennessee, pregnant and disgraced, views Miss Eva’s house as a mark of respectability and a promise of security for herself and Basil. However, she puts the house up as collateral for Basil’s bail after he is arrested in the killing of a white man. Basil jumps bail, disappears, and both he and the house are lost forever. The house has been a sanctuary for Mattie for more than fifteen years; when she has to give it up and move away to settle in Brewster Place, she is not only bereft of her only child but of the only home she has known as an adult.

Canaan Baptist Church

Canaan Baptist Church. Church near Brewster Place where Mattie Michael attends services and achieves the peace-of-mind she rarely experiences otherwise. Described as “a brooding, ashen giant,” it is the place where her friend Etta Mae Johnson meets an itinerant preacher, who seduces her. Etta Mae’s unrealistic hope when she first meets him is that somehow this “holy” man will be the one with whom she can finally settle down. The preacher’s dynamic sermonizing and charismatic personal charm encourage Etta Mae’s natural flirtatiousness. She ends up in a hotel with the not-so-holy preacher, a familiar and depressing scenario for Etta Mae. The church is a source of solace to Mattie, but after the episode with the preacher, it is mainly a reminder to Etta Mae of the futility of her hopes for a conventional future.


Alley. Brewster Place’s three-hundred-foot-long, six-foot-wide strip adjacent to the hated wall. It is the place where the teenage males with no place to go hang out. They “reign” there “like dwarfed warrior kings,” smoking marijuana, stealing, and generally terrorizing the vulnerable of Brewster Place. A dark and forbidding place, it is where the gang leader C. C. Baker and his cronies beat and rape the lesbian Lorraine and where she, out of her mind from the pain and trauma, murders Ben the janitor.

Rock Vale

Rock Vale. Rural area in Tennessee’s Rutherford County near the border with North Carolina. This is where the young Mattie Michael is “seduced” by a young man named Butch Fuller. The resulting pregnancy causes a breach with her father, and she leaves home, never to return.

BibliographyChristian, Barbara. “Gloria Naylor’s Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills. ” In New Black Feminist Criticism, 1975-2000, edited by Gloria Bowles. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Contrasts the two worlds of Brewster Place and Linden Hills, regards Kiswana as the link between the novels, and places Naylor in a literary context.Fraser, Celeste. “Stealing B(l)ack Voices: The Myth of the Black Matriarchy and The Women of Brewster Place. ” Critical Matrix 5 (Fall/Winter, 1989): 65-88. Reads Naylor’s novel as a refutation of conservative political theory that calls for breaking the power of the black matriarchy. Cites Naylor’s refusal to depict a single uniform image of black women or black families in opposition to the monolithic image white politicians describe. Considers the novel to be an attack on patriarchy.Kelly, Lori Duin. “The Dream Sequence in The Women of Brewster Place. ” Notes on Contemporary Literature 21 (September, 1991): 8-10. Focuses on the blood on the brick wall, finding the blood to be a symbol of female experience (birth, menstruation, loss of virginity). Sees the dismantling of the wall as an expression of rage at women’s collective experience with males.Matus, Jill L. “Dream, Deferral, and Closure in The Women of Brewster Place. ” Black American Literature Forum 24 (Spring, 1990): 49-64. Relates the novel to Hughes’s prefatory poem about the “dream deferred,” seeing the marginalized women in the last story as experiencing a cathartic dream of resistance followed by an affirmation of personal dreams.Naylor, Gloria, and Toni Morrison. “A Conversation.” The Southern Review 21 (Summer, 1985): 567-593. Naylor maintains that she “bent over backwards not to have a negative image come through about the men” and that she focused on telling women’s stories that had not been told enough in literature.Pearlman, Mickey. “An Interview with Gloria Naylor.” High Plains Literary Review 5 (Spring, 1990): 98-107. Concerns space and memory in Naylor’s novels. Discusses her graduate work at Yale and the conflict between writing and attending school.Saunders, James Robert. “The Ornamentation of Old Ideas: Gloria Naylor’s First Three Novels.” The Hollins Critic 27 (April, 1990): 1-11. Compares The Women of Brewster Place to Ann Petry’s The Street and notes that in both novels three generations of men fail the protagonist. Observes that the two novels differ in their treatment of “sisterly love.” Naylor’s is the more optimistic portrait.Wells, Linda, Sandra E. Bowen, and Suzanne Stutman. “’What Shall I Give My Children?’ The Role of Mentor in Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place and Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow. ” Explorations in Ethnic Studies 13 (July, 1990): 41-60. Asserts that Naylor uses a series of mentors who are linked to other mentors by healing communal experiences. Sees Mattie Michael as the central consciousness and the moral agent in the novel. The negative image of men is seen as a product of their selfishness.
Categories: Places