Brown Girl Dreaming

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Uncle Robert Character Analysis

Robert is Jacqueline’s uncle and Mama’s brother. Robert moves to New York while the family is living there. Robert is optimistic and generous, and he encourages Jacqueline’s storytelling tendencies. Unfortunately, Robert is also involved in criminal activity, and one day is taken to jail. When Robert is later released, he has converted to Islam.

Uncle Robert Quotes in Brown Girl Dreaming

The Brown Girl Dreaming quotes below are all either spoken by Uncle Robert or refer to Uncle Robert . 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 3 Quotes

It’s hard to understand
the way my brain works— so different
from everybody around me.
How each new story
I’m told becomes a thing
that happens,
in some other way to me…!

Keep making up stories, my uncle says.
You’re lying, my mother says.

Related Characters: Jacqueline (speaker), Mama, Uncle Robert
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Jacqueline’s storytelling continues to be a big part of her life, but itbecomes a problem when she fails to distinguish between storytelling and lying. Some adults in Jacqueline’s life, like Mama, find Jacqueline’s storytelling concerning, believing it to be dishonest and thinking it will lead to trouble. Robert, on the other hand, is amused by Jacqueline’s stories, and encourages her to keep up her habit.

Jacqueline doesn’t seem to understand the problem with storytelling/lying, or the source of her mother’s anger. Here in the poem “believing,” The difference in the ways that adults respond to Jacqueline cause her to wonder if her brain works differently from other people’s—an idea that could be alienating or exciting, or both. This quote shows Jacqueline’s confusion and angst as she is unsure of whether to be proud of her talent or ashamed of her difference; she is struggling to decide whether storytelling is a gift or a burden, and the adults in her life can provide her no clarity. This is a pivotal moment in her intellectual development, as she must make a decision about her values that will, no matter what, defy the advice of someone she loves.


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Part 4 Quotes

What’s wrong with you?
Have you lost your mind?
Don’t you know people get arrested
for this?

They’re just words,
I whisper.
They’re not trying to hurt anybody!

Related Characters: Jacqueline (speaker), Uncle Robert (speaker), Maria
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

As detailed here in “graffiti,” After Robert catches Jacqueline and Maria writing their names in spray paint on a building, he is furious with them. Jacqueline and Maria, who see other children their age doing graffiti, do not understand why this is so bad.

Robert’s anger clearly stems from his fear for the children. After asking “have you lost your mind?” Robert asks them “don’t you know people get arrested for this?” The reference to legal trouble is significant because, in the rest of the memoir, Woodson hints at the fact that the legal system often treats people of color unjustly.

Jacqueline, however, has no understanding of this, and so she cannot figure out why Robert is so mad. To Jacqueline, the graffiti is just another form self-expression, of storytelling, and of language practice—acts which Robert has previously encouraged her to pursue. She does not understand how words could “hurt anybody,” or that the context of her writing might lead her to get hurt.

This quote also showcases Jacqueline’s naiveté. She has had many experiences in her life that suggest the power of words, from her mother’s refusal to say “ma’am” to her own self-actualization through writing. Her ability to dismiss her graffiti writing as “just words,” then, shows that she hasn’t fully recognized the importance and power of language, a realization that will be crucial to her future maturity as a writer.

Part 5 Quotes

Some evenings, I kneel toward Mecca with my uncle.
Maybe Mecca
is the place Leftie goes to in his mind, when
the memory of losing his arm becomes too much. Maybe Mecca is
good memories,
presents and stories and poetry and arroz con pollo
and family and friends…

Related Characters: Jacqueline (speaker), Uncle Robert , Leftie
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

Here in “maybe mecca,” Jacqueline expresses her interest in Islam as she prays with Robert. While she has pulled away from her commitment to the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the contradictions and immoralities she sees in the religion, Jacqueline is nonetheless intensely drawn towards spiritualism in general. She loves the idea of “Mecca” that Robert teaches, and imagines it as a place where people, like her, go to escape painful memories. She also suggests that Mecca might represent the other happy things in her life at present, including good food, happy memories, family, and friends.

For Jacqueline, Mecca is also imagination and storytelling, which represent, to her, both passion and escapism.In being drawn to Islam instead of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jacqueline reveals her increasing self-knowledge. She has always been drawn to situations that allow her to prioritize imagination over rules, and by choosing to pray with Robert she is allowing herself to explore her interests and intuitions instead of forcing herself into a situation that seems wrong for her.

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Uncle Robert Character Timeline in Brown Girl Dreaming

The timeline below shows where the character Uncle Robert appears in Brown Girl Dreaming. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: followed the sky’s mirrored constellation to freedom
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
uncle robert. Jacqueline’s Uncle Robert moves to New York City. He arrives around midnight. The children are excited and Mama,... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
wishes. Robert takes the children to the park, and tells them that if they blow on a... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
believing. Jacqueline tells Robert made-up stories. Her uncle finds the stories amusing, and encourages them. Mama, however, accuses her... (full context)
Part 4: deep in my heart i do believe
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...her how to cook, but she didn’t want to learn. She tells Jacqueline about how Robert was stealing peaches while she and Kay stayed inside cooking, and how MaryAnn let them... (full context)
The North and The South Theme Icon
end of summer. The Greenville summer ends and Robert takes the children back to New York. When Jacqueline hugs Gunnar, she notices he is... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
far rockaway. Robert doesn’t linger at the house when he arrives back at Madison Street with the children.... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
afros. Robert comes to the house sporting an afro, and afterward Jacqueline begs Mama to let her... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
graffiti. Jacqueline and Maria try graffiti, but are caught by Robert. Jacqueline does not know how to express that she tried graffiti out of a desire... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
rikers island. Mama gets a phone call in the middle of the night from Robert, who has been thrown in jail. The next morning, Mama tells the children Robert won’t... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
moving upstate. Robert is moved to a prison upstate, where the family hopes to visit him soon. When... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
on the bus to dannemora. The family boards a bus to visit Robert in prison. Jacqueline falls in and out of sleep listening to the radio, and then... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
...pat Hope down, and thinks how quickly he could become just an inmate number like Robert. (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
not robert. When the family sees Robert at last, he is not himself. His afro is shaved, and Jacqueline senses a sadness... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...she was writing about the mountains they pass on their trip. Jacqueline cries, thinking of Robert, Gunnar, and Greenville: things she perceives as already lost. Jacqueline thinks that if she can... (full context)
Part 5: ready to change the world
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
the promise land. Robert is freed from jail. During his time in prison, he converted to Islam, and he... (full context)
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Spiritualism Theme Icon
...she particularly focuses on the sadness in his eyes. She thinks that the Mecca that Robert describes is what Leftie thinks of when the loss of his arm and the memories... (full context)
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
the revolution. During a walk to the park, Robert encourages the children to learn about “the revolution” (i.e. the Black Power Movement) firsthand. Jacqueline... (full context)