The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor is a novel told in seven stories. Of the seven stories, six are centered on individual characters, while the final story is about the entire community. Each woman has an individual story to tell. Their stories include the trials and tribulations they endured to end up at Brewster Place; Brewster Place is a dead end street that is cut off from the rest of the town. The primary characters and the title characters of each chapter are all women and residents of Brewster Place.
The life history of Brewster Place comes to resemble the history of the country as the community changes with each new historical shift. Following the Civil Rights Era, Brewster Place inherits its last inhabitants, African-Americans, many of whom are migrants from the southern half of the United States. The stories within the novel are the stories of these residents.
The first and longest narrative within the novel is Mattie Michael’s. Mattie, along with several other characters, arrives in Brewster Place from her parents’ home in the South. As a young woman, Mattie becomes pregnant by a notorious womanizer, Butch Fuller. When her father discovers her pregnancy, he beats her resulting in Mattie leaving her house. Mattie decides to move to the North at approximately the same time in history as the Great Migration. Mattie eventually has a son, Basil; Mattie and Basil live in an old run-down apartment, until Basil is bitten by a rat. Mattie decides she can no longer raise her son in these conditions, and she leaves. She is taken in by an old, kind, light-skinned African- American woman, Eva Turner and refuses to charge her rent. Eva is raising her grandchild, Lucielia, and the two young children grow up together. After Ms. Eva dies, Mattie purchases the house and remains there to raise her son, Basil. Basil turns out to be a spoiled young boy, and grows into a selfish man. He murders a man and goes to jail. Mattie uses her house for collateral, which Basil forfeits once he disappears. Mattie, after thirty years, is forced to give up her home and move to Brewster Place. Once she arrives at Brewster Place, Mattie is like the matriarchal figure.
The second story focuses on Etta Mae Johnson, Mattie’s childhood friend. Etta Mae is a woman who likes to live freely. She is constantly moving around from place to place and from man to man. Etta arrives at Brewster Place to stay with Mattie with a hope to find some stability. Though Etta is not really religious, Mattie convinces her to attend church where she meets the preacher, Reverend Woods Despite her past experiences, She is taken by his looks, wealth, and status, but after sleeping with him, she realizes it was all just a fantasy and that he wanted only sex. Etta leaves feeling broken, but her spirit is restored once she finds out that Mattie has stayed up all night waiting for her and she cares for her.
The third chapter tells the story of Kiswana Browne. Kiswana is one of the few people who have actually chosen to live on Brewster Place voluntarily. Raised in the affluent community, Linden Hills, Kiswana has had a privileged life; she has grown up in a wealthy household with many opportunities. During her college years, Kiswana became interested in African-American pride. Kiswana dropped out of college to live in Brewster Place, where she believes she can effect real social change in the black community Kiswana’s mother comes to visit her in her new home at Brewster Place, and it is clear that she does not really approve of her daughter’s new life. The two women have several short arguments that culminate in Kiswana calling her mother a “white- man’s nigger.” Mrs. Browne eventually explains that she too is proud of her African heritage, and she only wants what is best for her daughter. At the end both mother and daughter have a better understanding of each other.
The fourth chapter focuses on Lucielia Turner, also known as Ciel, is the granddaughter of Ms. Eva . After Eva’s death, Lucielia was returned to her parents, and she has grown up since her days with her grandmother. Lucielia is now married to a worthless man Eugene, yet she loves him desperately. Lucielia has a daughter, Serena . Lucielia aborts their second child because Eugene does not want it. Eugene eventually decides to leave Lucielia and Serena for a new job opportunity. While Lucielia is begging him to stay, Serena sticks a fork in an electrical socket and dies leaving Lucielia nearly lifeless with grief. Following the funeral, Mattie is the one who begins to release Lucielia’s enormous grief by rocking and bathing her until she falls asleep crying.
Cora Lee’s story is told in the fifth chapter. As a young girl, Cora Lee was obsessed with baby dolls and this obsession continues when she is an adult. Once Cora Lee discovers how babies are made, she wants to become pregnant and have one of her own. she has one child after another, almost all with different men. She lives in a filthy apartment, and her children are terribly neglected, since she can only care for them while they’re infants. Kiswana visits Cora Lee’s home, and invites her to a production of Shakespeare’s play. At the play, the children and Cora Lee are all touched by the performance. By the end, Cora Lee begins to imagine a better future for her children. She kisses them all goodnight. She is loving and kind to her children that night, yet after they are all asleep, she sleeps with another nameless man.
The sixth chapter combines the story of two women, Theresa and Lorraine. Theresa and Lorraine is the only lesbian couple who have recently moved to Brewster Place. Originally they are well-liked by the community, but when the local gossip convinces the rest of the town that they are lesbians, Theresa and Lorraine become shunned. Lorraine and Theresa are almost complete opposites in personality; Lorraine wants to be accepted by the community, while Theresa is portrayed as a tough girl who does not care what other people think. Lorraine feels lonely and misunderstood, until she befriends Ben, the local, harmless drunk. Ben helps her become braver and more confident with herself. Theresa and Lorraine’s conflicting personalities cause them to have a fight, and Lorraine leaves to go to a party. As she is returning, she is cornered by a group of men. The men are cruel, and they want to show Lorraine what being with a real man is like. The group brutally rapes Lorraine and leaves her bloody and beaten in the alley. Ben finds Lorraine in the morning, and Lorraine, in her confusion, murders Ben by bashing his head in with a brick.
Following Ben’s death, Mattie has a dream that the rain that has drenched Brewster Place since Ben’s murder has suddenly stopped in time for the block party planned by the tenants’ association. The rain eventually returns during the party, and everyone except the women run for shelter. The women believe that the wall in front of which Ben died still has blood on it, so they begin to frantically tear it apart, brick by brick. Mattie wakes to a beautiful sunny day. In the end, all of the residents of Brewster Place are forced out, and the block is condemned. Brewster Place, abandoned, lives on only in the hopes and memories of the women who once lived there.
The final chapter of the Women of Brewster Place is the block party. Kiswana plans the block party to help promote changes in Brewster Place. She hopes the landlord will see their party, and will make some positive changes to Brewster Place. During the block party, Mattie Michael has an intense dream. At first she dreams of the party; despite the recent tragedy of Lorraine and Ben, everyone seems to be having a decent time. The dream quickly turns bad, however, when it begins to rain; everybody runs for shelter except the women. The women discover a splatter of blood on the wall where Ben was killed. They quickly begin to demolish the brick wall, by removing brick after brick. When Mattie finally awakens, the sun is shining. The story ends with the closing of Brewster Place. All the residents are evicted, and Brewster Place remains alone, with only the memories of the women who lived there to sustain it.