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The Women of Brewster Place

Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Brewster Place’s Wall

The wall separating Brewster Place from the main avenues of the city serves several important purposes. Following its initial creation, the wall comes to symbolize the indifference with which Brewster Place is treated by the men responsible for its creation. Because of the wall, Brewster Place is economically and culturally isolated from the rest of the city. The wall has forced Brewster Place to fend for itself. For the residents of Brewster Place, the wall symbolizes the fact that for most of them, Brewster Place will be the end of the road. Their lives will go no further, regardless of how much they may hope or dream. The wall, for them, represents the wall that has been built around their lives, either by failed opportunities or by a series of misfortunes. The true disastrousness of the wall becomes evident at the end of the novel. Along this wall, Lorraine drags her nearly lifeless body after she is gang raped, and it is from this wall that she grabs the brick she uses to kill Ben.

Sugar Cane

Butch Fuller uses sugar cane not only to lure Mattie into the fields with him but also to espouse a whole philosophy on life. From the start of Mattie and Butch’s trip to the sugar cane field, there is an ominous overtone cast by the large machetes that each of them wields. There is something dangerous about Butch, and that danger is encapsulated perfectly in his attitude toward the world. When preparing to eat the sugar cane, Butch tells Mattie to spit it out while it’s still sweet. In telling her this, he not only reveals something about his perspective toward life but also prepares her for what’s about to come. Following their brief encounter, Mattie winds up pregnant while Butch becomes nothing more than a ghost. He stays just long enough to enjoy the pleasures of Mattie’s body, while refusing to stay around to experience any of the complications or hardships that come about as a result.

Color

Brewster Place is full of color, from the clothes the children wear on a summer afternoon to the color of its residents. Naylor describes the color of nearly every character that appears in the novel. Characters are described as caramel, honey, light-skinned, dark-skinned, and blue-eyed. In describing characters this way, Naylor shows the spectrum of shades and experiences that have defined African-American culture. There is a diversity of experiences, evident not only in the lives of the characters but in the characters’ very skin. In addition, the color of the residents also occasionally serves as a contrast to the drab colors that otherwise characterize Brewster Place. The sky may be gray and the walls “ashen,” but the residents of Brewster Place, full of life, are vibrant and rich.