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. 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. 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. 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.