Brown Girl Dreaming

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MaryAnn Character Analysis

MaryAnn is Jacqueline’s maternal grandmother. She and Gunnar live in South Carolina. MaryAnn is a devoted Jehovah’s Witness and an excellent cook. When Mama and her children come to live with her and Gunnar, MaryAnn takes a job housekeeping for a white family across town to make ends meet. MaryAnn ensures that her grandchildren participate actively in their Bible study and attend Kingdom Hall on Sundays. After Gunnar’s death, MaryAnn moves to Brooklyn to live with Mama and her children.

MaryAnn Quotes in Brown Girl Dreaming

The Brown Girl Dreaming quotes below are all either spoken by MaryAnn or refer to MaryAnn . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Nancy Paulsen Books edition of Brown Girl Dreaming published in 2014.
Part 2 Quotes

I’m not ashamed…cleaning is what I know. I’m not ashamed if it feeds my children.

Related Characters: MaryAnn (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

MaryAnn is referring here, in the poem “daywork,” to her new job as a housekeeper for a white family. In order to provide for the household, which newly includes Mama and her children, MaryAnn, who already works as a part-time teacher, has to take on the additional work. Many other black women also do daywork, but the job is extremely physically demanding, and leaves MaryAnn with sore feet, as well as a bruised sense of dignity.

Indeed, MaryAnn’s repeated and unprovoked insistence that she is not ashamed of the daywork gestures towards the depth of her shame—she feels that the work is beneath her, and to do it takes an emotional toll. MaryAnn is a very proud woman who dresses well and behaves elegantly, and her work cleaning the floors for white women who consider themselves too good for houseworkis degrading;still, MaryAnn continues to do it, as it is a financial necessity and she wants her grandchildren to have a better life than she does. This is, like Mama sitting at the back of the bus, another example of a situation in which African Americans must choose to submit to a racist status quo in order to ensure the safety or financial security of future generations. It’s a difficult bargain that must be made over and over again in different contexts throughout the book.

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At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we’re just people.

Related Characters: Jacqueline (speaker), MaryAnn
Page Number: 90-91
Explanation and Analysis:

Jacqueline makes this observation in “the fabric store”,when she and MaryAnn go to the fabric store together. On their way to the fabric store, Jacqueline and her grandmother walk past a number of stores where they don’t shop because of segregation. The fabric store, on the other hand, is run by a friend of MaryAnn’s. The white owner treats them like any other customers, and Jacqueline’s statement that there they are “not Colored or Negro” at the fabric store shows how race affects all of Jacqueline’s experiences, even at the mundane level of fabric shopping. Race functions in Jacqueline’s life primarily as an exclusionary force, one that makes her feel othered. She associates the concept of race with people mistrusting her or making her feel ashamed.

Moreover, when Jacqueline says that in the fabric store they are not “colored or negro,” she suggests that the ideas of being “colored” or “negro” are separate from her skin color, as her skin color doesn’t change when she enters the store but her racial status does. In other words,Jacqueline’s observation suggests that the idea of race is a construction related to, but not inherent to, differences in skin pigmentation. At the fabric store, Jacqueline says, she and MaryAnn can be “just people,” which implies that Jacqueline understands the possibility of living in a world where brown skin doesn’t mean being viewed differently.Conversely, this passage underscores that the circumstances when Jacqueline and her family are viewed as “colored” or “negro” are essentially dehumanization.

Part 4 Quotes

It’s hard not to see the moment—
my grandmother in her Sunday clothes, a hat
with a flower pinned to it
neatly on her head, her patent-leather purse,
perfectly clasped
between her gloved hands—waiting quietly
long past her turn.

Related Characters: Jacqueline (speaker), MaryAnn
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Just before this quote from “what everybody knows now,” MaryAnn and Jacqueline had sat in the back of the bus, despite the fact that buses are desegregated. They did this because MaryAnn did not want to cause trouble. Further, MaryAnn, who is out shopping with Jacqueline, tells Jacqueline they are not going to go to Woolworth’s; even though the store has been legally desegregated, the store clerks ignored MaryAnn on her last visit.

This quote highlights the fact that legal segregation did not end racism in the South or elsewhere, and that racism and discrimination continued to be carried out in subtler, but no less painful, ways. The image of MaryAnn waiting “long past her turn” in her best clothes is heartbreaking. The moment highlights how, although MaryAnn is gracious, well dressed, and extremely dignified, it does not prevent the store clerks from behaving hatefully towards her.

This is perhaps Woodson’s way of commenting on the damaging claim that, if black people are “respectable,” white people will behave well towards them and racism will end. Woodson shows that, in fact, racism and the systemic oppression of African-Americans do not follow that logic, and that patience and silence in the face of racism have limited success in ending bigotry.

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MaryAnn Character Timeline in Brown Girl Dreaming

The timeline below shows where the character MaryAnn appears in Brown Girl Dreaming. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: i am born
Memory Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...older sister, is born several months after Uncle Odell’s death. Jacqueline imagines her maternal grandmother, MaryAnn, picking up the phone in South Carolina to hear the good news. (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
home. Mama, Jacqueline, Odella, and Hope arrive at the home of Mama’s parents, MaryAnn and Gunnar, in South Carolina. Jacqueline’s grandmother greets them by saying “welcome home,” and her... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...and clothes, Mama puts on lipstick, and Jack shaves. Then the family says goodbye to MaryAnn and Gunnar. They board the night bus so that people who might mistake them for... (full context)
Part 2: the stories of south carolina run like rivers
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...to her, Odella, and Hope in relation to their grandparents (saying, for example, they are “MaryAnn’s babies”). She also pays attention to how her grandmother says the names all in one... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...but only the African-Americans go back to Nicholtown. Nicholtown is populated exclusively by “brown people.” MaryAnn tells Jacqueline that racial segregation is how the South has traditionally been organized, but that... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
...“daywork” (housework for white families across town) that African-American women do to make ends meet. MaryAnn starts to do daywork two days a week to supplement her income as a part-time... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
When MaryAnn returns from the daywork, she is extremely tired, and her body aches from the hard... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
bible times. MaryAnn tells Jacqueline, Odella, and Hope about the Bible stories she reads each night before she... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
...they have Northern accents, Cora and her sisters, and three brothers from down the road. MaryAnn won’t let her grandchildren play with these other children, but they know not to ask... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
...the cause. Jacqueline thinks of how Mama, too, participates in Civil Rights meetings, which causes MaryAnn to worry. Jacqueline refers to the movement and the backlash against it as a “war.” (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
the blanket. Mama goes to visit New York, leaving Jacqueline and her siblings with MaryAnn and Gunnar. Jacqueline reflects on the close relationship she has with both grandparents, and how... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
hair night. On Saturday night, MaryAnn does Jacqueline and Odella’s hair. While MaryAnn works to straighten Jacqueline’s hair with a hot... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
family names. Gunnar and MaryAnn tell their grandchildren all the names of their own siblings (the children’s great aunts and... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
american dream. While the children wash MaryAnn’s sore feet in Epsom salts, she tells them that the Civil Rights protests didn’t just... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
MaryAnn then changes gears, saying how, when Mama was little, she wanted a dog. MaryAnn thought... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
the fabric store. Jacqueline says that, on some Fridays, she and her siblings go with MaryAnn to the fabric store, which is the only store in downtown Greenville that doesn’t actively... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...pictures of the city, and talks about her friends from Greenville who have moved there. MaryAnn is extremely sad about the news. (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
...time. Gunnar’s garden is in full bloom, and once the vegetables in it are picked, MaryAnn makes them into side dishes. (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...Meanwhile, Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline sit on the stairs and eavesdrop, quiet for fear that MaryAnn will put them to bed. From the adult gossip, Jacqueline fills in the gaps in... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
changes. As MaryAnn styles Jacqueline’s hair, Jacqueline has a sense that the feeling of the brush is already... (full context)
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
faith. Following Mama’s departure, MaryAnn forces her grandchildren to practice their religion more fervently (they are Jehovah’s Witnesses), and to... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
...that she “killed the Devil,” and says the devil will come after her. Jacqueline cries. MaryAnn finds her and comforts her, saying it is just a superstition, and that she shouldn’t... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
...children run to it, knowing it is Mama calling. Hope picks up the phone, but MaryAnn takes it from him, and promises them each a few minutes to talk to her. (full context)
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
what god knows. MaryAnn and the children pray for Gunnar, since he is a non-believer. Gunnar, however, thinks they... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
down the road. MaryAnn warns the children to not exert themselves when playing with the boy who has a... (full context)
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
the other infinity. MaryAnn tells her grandchildren that they are the “chosen people.” They do not understand what she... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
new york baby. As Jacqueline sits on her lap, MaryAnn tells her that she will no longer be the baby of the family when Mama... (full context)
Part 3: followed the sky’s mirrored constellation to freedom
The North and The South Theme Icon
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
another kingdom hall. In response to MaryAnn’s prompting, Mama finds a Kingdom Hall where the children can attend services on Sundays. This... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...York, and her speech is becoming more Northern. When she and her siblings speak to MaryAnn on the phone, MaryAnn laughs and asks “Who are these city children?” Jacqueline wishes she... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
home again on hall street. In Greenville, MaryAnn’s kitchen is the same as ever. She stands at the sink washing collard greens and... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
mrs. hughes’s house. Since Gunnar is sick and MaryAnn works full time, the children spend the days at Mrs. Hughes’ Nursery School. When MaryAnn... (full context)
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
field service. Thanks to MaryAnn’s influence, Jacqueline, Hope, and Odella spend their Saturdays evangelizing. For the first time, Jacqueline is... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
sunday afternoon on the front porch. Miss Bell waves to MaryAnn, who sits with her grandchildren on the porch. Gunnar, meanwhile, gardens. When Jacqueline worries about... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
home then home again. The summer in Greenville is ending. Mama calls MaryAnn to plan the children’s return. The children miss Roman, and Jacqueline thinks of him running... (full context)
Part 4: deep in my heart i do believe
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
lessons. As Mama cooks pancakes, she tells Jacqueline that MaryAnn tried to teach her how to cook, but she didn’t want to learn. She tells... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
what everybody knows now. Despite the end of legal segregation in the South, MaryAnn still sits in the back of the bus with the children to avoid “having white... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Once in town, MaryAnn and the children do not go into Woolworth’s. During one recent visit, the store employees... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
daddy. In the spring, MaryAnn informs the family that Gunnar is dying, and tells them to come to Greenville. The... (full context)
Part 5: ready to change the world
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
after greenville #2. After Gunnar’s death, MaryAnn moves to Brooklyn to live with Mama and the children. Spring turns to summer and... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
mimosa tree. MaryAnn planted a mimosa tree seed in the spring, and in the winter the sapling emerges.... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
what’s left behind. MaryAnn tells Jacqueline that she reminds her of Gunnar while holding a picture of him in... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
...for the vacation, but Jacqueline’s family does not go to Greenville anymore because it makes MaryAnn too sad. So Jacqueline writes that her family went to Long Island, despite the fact... (full context)