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"Brown girl, brownstones" by Paule Marshall

Categories: Books

Plot summary

The prose fiction Brown girl, brownstones by Paule Marshall, is a bildungsroman with autobiographical elements, tracking the life and experiences of the main protagonist, Selina Boyce and the family and friends in her life. Marshall uses various elements and techniques in the prose, to bring about different themes, characteristics and aspects in her novel. The text is set mainly in the 1930’s Brooklyn, New York, at a community of brownstone houses occupied by the Bajan immigrants. Though there are various perspectives of other personas in the prose, Marshall uses a third person narrative to show the first person perspective of Selina.

The story begins with Selina at ten years old and continues until she is no longer a minor. It shows the theme of identity as Selina is trying to find who she is amongst members in her family. “But they have taken no photographs…” was one of the first time Selina’s loneliness can be seen in the text.

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She is jealous of the fact her parents took photographs of the family before the death of her infant brother, yet took no keepsakes of hers.

Then it goes on to where Marshall is a very descriptive narrator, using a cinematic effect in her story telling. The scenes shift continuously to suggest simultaneous action which produces a dramatic effect that helps to build conflict and suspense. She also uses devices and diction to bring about various themes and symbolic elements in her text. She uses the technique of epigraph to start each chapter, it is a type of foreshadowing, hinting of what will happen throughout the chapter.

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It also helps to characterize individuals in the story. Contrast is also a reoccurring technique in the text, as characters such as Silla and Deighton, Ina and Selina, have contradictory personalities. There is also contradiction in the symbols and diction in the text. Words such as ‘winter’ and ‘Sun’, ‘darkness’ and ‘light’, are contradictory symbols referring to the characteristics of individuals such as Selina’s parents in the text. The writer involves the use of the Bajan dialect as well as English, as if trying to incorporate the reader in the culture of Barbados and also add credibility and realism to the story.

It suggests pride in the Bajan culture. The author uses various figurative devices in the text. There is a heavy focus on the use of personification and architectural imagery. Symbolism is evident in the prose; using colors such as red to represent romance and sexual relationships; and white, and brownstones to represent upward mobility, status and unattainable goals. Land in the text is also symbolic of independence and opportunity. The use of conflict, such as; mother-daughter, husband-wife, black-white, is brought out by the symbols and conflicting elements in the prose. It shows the destruction in relationships, and accentuates climatic moments, such as when Deighton, used the money Silla stole from him, or when Silena told the whole Bajan association, she’d tricked them.

Marshall uses devices such as; imagery, epigraph, motif, foreshadowing, pathetic fallacy and biblical allusion, to show racism, identity, women in society, family, deceit, and various other themes in the prose fiction. The denouement, begins with Silena recognizing who she is and making final decisions for herself. After all her trials and lost relationships, she finally covers her identity, accepting who she has become, the trials she is yet to face and the people in her past who has made her who she is today. Especially her mother, whom she had always fought against.


The life of Deighton Boyce, was the subject chosen for the poem between many view Deighton as a problem in the text Brown girl, brownstones, giving him no sympathy. The poem was intended to convey sympathy for Deighton. His life in the poem is specifically intriguing as though he causes many shifts in characteristics of others in the text, his own life is not emphasized. The poem will hopefully give an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the issues of Deighton death, and his life.

Mocking Jay

I saw a song bird fight a bird of prey,
Beautiful-ugly, he was, filled with sorrow, was she. Night and day, He sang a tune of love and wonder,
She sang back of vicis and plunder,
I tried to save that mocking Jay,
But the night stole him away.
Where are you my mocking Jay?
Trapped in the tomb of brown stones?
Your young are calling, where are you?
Won’t you fight the snow away?
Don’t you hear the light’s moans?
Has she trapped him too?
No longer perched on your window silla
They’ve clipped your wings
You’ve destroyed their prison
The flock screams their Bajan banter
Fly away home my mocking Jay
Swim home my song bird
But, mocking Jay’s never dive…
I’ll send a new light your way…
For you to see through winter’s clock…
To save your flock…
To blind your eyes…
And save you from the dark…
Shattered tunes of my broken song bird
Remember your prayers
The sad broken memory.
The life you ran away.
Dead like marrow staining the asphalt.
Staining corals a sea away.
Songs long dead, I’ll sing them to you.
I’ll pray your tarnished soul away.
Deighton, my mocking Jay.


The poem “mocking Jay”, is a kind of stanzaic elegy, in tribute to a character in the prose text “Brown girl, Brownstones”. The poet uses the mimicking bird, mocking jay, to represent the character Deighton in the prose text. Not only do mocking jays have a gift in music, which was one of the professional genres Deighton attempted, but they repeat everything sung to them in a mocking manner. Deighton, like these birds, reflects a mocking version of the negatives surround him; from using the money his wife stole from him, to purchase frivolous gifts to spite her; to changing his course of study every time he is confronted with racism or barriers. Deighton also has the dream like (surreal), and fun loving attributes common to these birds. The poem comprises of four sestets, a couplet a single line and a septet.

The stanza formation, is quite symbolic. The first stanza is the first of the four sestets. At the end of each sentence in this sestet is a comma. This represents the fact that this relatively pleasant chapter in his life is not yet complete, it won’t end in a ‘happy ever after’. It is as if to say that the beginning of their relationship was an unfinished dream. The second sestet ends in a question within, as if questioning the relationship, not understanding the change in the relationship and in Silla. The third sestet ends without punctuation is representative to all the times Deighton and the audience were waiting to see Silla’s response to sightings behavior. The final sestet concludes with “structured-chaotic” punctuation, of when Silla’s revenge unfolds it was chaotic in the circumstances of deportation, but structured in that it was her plan all along. Combining with the lack of punctuation, the couplet of stanza five signifies his never ending pain.

It symbolizes that, as the lack of punctuation prevents the sentence from truly being complete, his pain and suffering will not end even in the afterlife. The single line consists of one word “Eulogy”, this refers to the speech given at a funeral or a recollection of the past doings of an individual after he is dead. This word being the shortest stanza, represents the lack of quality and memorabilia Deighton has left behind with his children. The final stanza a sestet can be tied to the biblical representation of the day God rested. The number seven represents the change that occurs after an accomplished cycle. Deighton, accomplices all he could so the last stanza represents his death the final rest he accomplished after his life cycle. The poem has a steady rhythms. Though not all stanzas have a structured rhyme scheme, the poem still flows as if it does. It is like the steady yet unusual flow of life, just as the poem is a depiction of Dighton’s life as was represented in the prose fiction. The first stanza contains a set of rhyming couplets, repeating the first rhyme in the last stanza (an “a, a b, b a, a” format).

The last rhyme however is a forced rhyme, this is there to show that leaving the omnipresence was not something the Jay wanted, but was what was forced on him. The second stanza consists of alternate rhymes that emphasize the questioning in this stanza, that he is running alternate scenarios in his mind as to why the wife who used to love him hates him so much now. The fourth sestet has the last rhyme, “clock” and “flock”. This symbolizes that the time he has left with his children is limited as his death is nearing. The rest of the poem is rhyming going parallel to the pores fiction as explanations are revealed in the story, the confusion and rhyming stops. The poem commences with the omnipresent narrator giving a visual imagery of the meeting between two contradicting birds. The “song bird” represents something happy, passive and peaceful, while “bird of prey” represents something sly, dominating and warlike.

The story continues with oxymoronic inverted syntaxes of line two, that helps to emphasize that the creatures have contradicting personas and that their union could never last as it was based on confusion. Just as in the prose fiction, Silla thought she could turn Deighton into someone he wasn’t, and failed. The diction used in the first stanza such as; “vicis”, “Jay” and “Night”, aid in displaying the theme of conflict in relationships. ‘Vicis’ is the Latin word for change, in reference to the context it highlights Silla’s need to change her husband’s persona and fight to create a life for them that he never wanted. The capitalization diff words such as Jay and Night, personify these nonhuman objects, in the case of the Jay it helps to emphasize this being a character trait of Deighton, while the Night highlights Silla’s character as bright cold and heartless, but at that time seeming beautiful and peaceful. Lines three and four of the first stanza also help to concretize the theme of contradictory persons in relationships, displayed in the first stanza.

Stanza two is a rhetorical question sestet, it constantly asks questions the ‘Jay’ is obviously unable to answer, and these are symbolic of the time where the relationship between Silla and Deighton was confusing. He didn’t know where she stood, whether still in love with him or hating h for the injustice she believes he did to their son, the first line emphasizes this. It follows with a reference to the brownstone house Silla spent a majority of the text fighting to obtain. The use of diction such as “prison”, “brown”, and “stones” was a slight pun as a Jay would find a house made of stones a prison, and juxtaposed with the text, it can be said that Deighton saw the house his wife fought so much for was like a prison to him, and a symbol of his failures in his relationships and providing for his family. Line two is the first and only mention of their children in the poem. This is symbolic as it shows that not only did Deighton not spend enough time with them and focused more on himself, but he also failed as a father in that he couldn’t protect them from the “snow” which is a personified symbolism of his wife.

The personification of the ‘light’, at the end of the stanza references all the happiness and innocence still in the family. When the persona asks about the moaning light that ‘she’ has trapped it means that he was unable to prevent the happiness and life from leaving their family, this aids in uncovering the themes of failing one’s family and loosing things that are important. The third stanza has the most textual allusions, the stanza opens with a pun, “window silla”. As a bird a sill is somewhere you can rest, be at peace like a home, in this means Deighton no longer feels at home in the browns stones. Silla is also the name of his wife so it can mean that he is also no longer feeling happy in his marriage, as shown in the text queen he began going you the house form his mistress in the nights. “They’ve clipped your wings” line two of the stanza refers to when he almost got his arm amputated due to his indolence.

This is symbolic as it is a physical representative and slight foreshadowing of how his time was ending. The next line refers to the song they sang to him at the wedding. The ‘f’’, ‘s’, ‘th’ and ‘b’ fricative and plosive so funds of the fourth line in the third stanza, emphasizes the running and the drama happening in that scene of the text. The ‘swim home’ in the last line of that stanza references the Caribbean since Islands in the Caribbean are surrounded by water. The last sestet refers to the last actions before Deighton’s death. It starts with a pun, on Deighton’s childhood, as he dived for the coins white men through at him, and also an allusion to him diving to his death. The ‘new light’ is symbolic for Deighton’s religious period, where the movement of the new light helped him to finally discover himself, though completely swiping his personality. ‘winter’s clock’ is symbolic for Deighton’s attempts at going back in time to rectify the problems mainly caused by his relationship with his wife. The couplet, single line and septet, is after his death.

People have pained cries due to morning Deighton’s death. The mansion of Prayers refer to his newfound beliefs and Eulogy is the speech given at a funeral. The final stanza is technically the omnipresence’s eulogy for Deighton, though it shows that he is not someone people will remember with respect. It speaks of how he could have had a life if he’d made different choices. It gives an image of his death at sea, and its connection to his past in the Caribbean. It then shows the general sadness surrounding his death, and accentuates the theme of death in the text. The poem changes from a tone of observation, to unease, to sadness. Hopefully bringing out an overall sympathy for the persona. Though it is not a total rhyming poem, it still has a flowing rhythms that showcases the life cycle of Deighton, as shown in the text.


The text Brown girl, brownstones, is an excellent depiction of women and men in immigrant communities. Most persons generally sympathize with the women of these communities, however this poem has hopefully garnered a positive response to men in these communities, and those shown in the text. This may help persons to recognize that women were not the only ones with problems in the text. The blame for these conflicts also, should not be solely the fault of males like Deighton, in the prose, but equally shared between each individual, and characters in the prose fiction.

Cite this page

"Brown girl, brownstones" by Paule Marshall. (2016, Apr 25). Retrieved from

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