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Themes

The Search for a Home

The residents of Brewster Place are constantly searching for a home, both as a literal place to live and as a metaphorical state of mind. For Mattie, her search for a home other than the one in which she was raised takes her from a rundown apartment in the city to a wonderful home in which she raises her child, and finally, to Brewster Place. The journey from one home to another is repeated with every character in the novel. Just as important as any physical location is the security and comfort attached to the idea of home. Brewster Place, though it’s falling apart, offers Etta a form of security and comfort she has long lived without. It offers Kiswana the opportunity to live out her ideals, and it offers Mattie the opportunity to become a surrogate mother to a host of women. In every search for a home, what ultimately defines the idea of “home” isn’t the condition of the walls but the strength of the relationships within those walls.

The Hopefulness of Migration

The residents of Brewster Place have migrated to Brewster Place from their parents’ home in the South, from the Mediterranean, from the middle-class suburbs ringing the city, or from more secure lives and homes. Regardless of where they come from, they have ended up here, and they have chosen, or been forced, to call it home. Migration, in addition to being a central theme of the novel, is also a central theme in African-American history. From the slave migration to the North prior to the Civil War, to the Great Migration of millions of African-Americans following the post-World War II industrial boom, the idea of escaping to the North has always held hope and promise of a better future.

For most of the residents of Brewster Place, however, migration isn’t the fulfillment of a dream but the culmination of a long, frustrating life. Mattie loses her home and ends up in Brewster Place, while Etta arrives after a series of failed relationships. Ben comes to Brewster Place after being abandoned by his wife and daughter, while Lorraine and Theresa are forced out of their more comfortable middle-class existence because of their sexuality. Despite the frustrations and difficulties of life in Brewster Place, it brings all of its residents hope: a light is left on all night; a late-night conversation brings comfort; and many of those searching for meaning find some version of it here.

The Power of Personal Connections

Throughout the novel, characters reach out to one another across generational, cultural, and gender lines. They reach out to one another and, in doing so, are able to ease the loneliness and hardship that surround their lives. One example of a powerful personal connection is Mattie’s relationship with Eva. The women are separated by class, skin tone, and age, yet they find each other and make each other’s lives more bearable. Similar benefits arise from other connections, including Mattie’s relationship with Etta, Mattie’s relationship with Lucielia, Kiswana’s relationship with Cora, and Ben’s relationship with Lorraine. Each relationship shows how personal connections can sustain and offer hope in even the direst circumstances. The relationships show individuals at their best, and they serve as a necessary counterweight to the abandonment, prejudice, and brutality that comprise much of the novel.

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