The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories

Naylor, Gloria

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Jul-25-1997
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


This novel, a winner of the American Book Award in 1983, focuses on the stories of several women who have come to live on the dead-end street, Brewster Place ("the bastard child of several clandestine meetings between the alderman of the sixth district and the managing director of Unico Realty Company" (p. 1), and the interweaving of their lives.

Mattie Michael has lost her home to her much loved, but errant son, but becomes the backbone of this community of women; Etta Mae Johnson has loved one man too many and comes to Brewster Place defeated, but finds "light and love and comfort" in the friendship of Mattie; Kiswana Browne moves to Brewster Place in an attempt to develop her Afro-centric identity, divorced from her middle class family; Lucielia Louise Turner loses one pregnancy to an abortion to keep her husband, and loses her remaining daughter to a tragic accident, also losing the will to live until Mattie’s intervention; Cora Lee’s profound loneliness motivates her to conceive child after child ("Her new baby doll" [p. 107]); "The Two" (Lorraine and Theresa) attempt to work out their life together closeted from the homophobic world. Despite the pain and suffering represented in the novel, the story culminates with a dream vision of the community healed and rebuilding itself.


This short novel works well not only in its entirety, but in section, making it especially useful in the classroom. Contextualizing the lives of people who might find their ways to hospital clinics or emergency rooms, The Women of Brewster Place focuses well on a wide range of complex issues, but ends with a vision of hope. Particularly relevant to medicine are the sections, "Lucielia Louise Turner," "Cora Lee," and "The Two."

In Lucielia Louise Turner, Naylor gives readers a portrait of a woman literally dying of grief and rage. It is Mattie’s intervention and her ability to place Lucielia’s grief in a historical context and to know it as one more instance of "murdered dreams" in a long history of such murders that undergirds her lifesaving and healing intervention. "Cora Lee" provides useful psychological insight into the reasons someone such as she would continue to have baby after baby, neglecting each when a new child is born.

In "The Two," Naylor knits together homophobia, racism, sexism, violence, and alcoholism in the brutal gang rape of Lorraine ("the most dangerous species in existence--human males with an erection to validate in a world that was only six feet wide" [p.170]), and its aftermath--her crazed murder of the alcoholic janitor, Ben, with whom she had become friends. Never solely victims, however, the novel insists not only on linking personal tragedy with social issues, but focuses as well on the strength and hope that arises from the ashes of pain.


First published: 1982 (Viking).



Place Published

New York



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