Character Sketch of Etta Mae Johnson in ‘The Women of Brewster Place’

Etta Mae Johnson is the next woman who comes to Brewster Place and into the story. Etta Mae is a childhood friend of Mattie’s. Etta spends the bulk of her life after fleeing the South searching to fulfill some unnamed desire, a mixture of a desire for love, stability, and someone with whom to share her life. Everyone thinks she is eccentric and flamboyant but really all Etta wants is to have a great love and a happy and perfect family life. She moves from one man to the next, hoping to find in each of them at least a part of what she’s seeking. Like the old blues songs she carries in her head, Etta sees herself as a tragic and lonely figure. Her name, in fact, could even be taken as an invocation of Etta James, the famous jazz singer whose mournful songs have clearly played an important role in defining Etta’s identity. After a long life of disappointments, Etta settles into Brewster Place, hoping that perhaps she can find that long-sought-after security. Instead, she finds more disappointment and failure. Etta grew into an intimidating and bold woman because her childhood life allowed for no superiority when it came to women. Etta is a very strong woman because of her childhood. More than anything she wants to be an important woman of society, which back then was normally accomplished by marrying an important man. So, Etta sets her sights on Reverend Woods. This man would seem to be of better intentions but the Reverend tries to get Etta to have a onenight stand. Etta’s reputation is ruined. Only at the end of her chapter in the novel does Etta realize that she has already found in Mattie at least some of what she’s searching for. Etta is Mattie’s childhood friend, and she is, in almost every regard, Mattie’s exact opposite. While Etta is sexually adventurous and bold with no true religious devotion, Mattie is solitary and devout. In Mattie she finds a true friend, someone who can help make her life matter.

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