Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming Part 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
after greenville #2. After Gunnar’s death, MaryAnn moves to Brooklyn to live with Mama and the children. Spring turns to summer and then to winter. From her chair by the window, MaryAnn watches the leaves fall. Jacqueline learns to jump double-dutch while her grandmother watches. Jacqueline remarks that, “both of [their] worlds [are] changed forever.”
When MaryAnn comes to live with them, the part of Jacqueline’s life that took place in Greenville is over. Woodson portrays MaryAnn’s grief in a poignant, understated way, emphasizing her lack of energy and purpose as she sits in her chair for months, looking out the window. Despite Jacqueline’s efforts to immortalize Gunnar and her life in Greenville through writing, she has the sense that the family’s world is irrevocably changed.
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Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
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. Jacqueline meditates on how some days she feels that the New York that people glorified in Greenville does not exist. But other days Jacqueline feels optimistic about the mimosa tree, and thinks that it will bring a piece of Greenville to New York.
Jacqueline sometimes feels pessimistic that the New York that was promised to her in the stories people told her in Greenville does not actually exist in real life. But she has hope that the sapling of a mimosa tree that MaryAnn planted will bring her a sense of unity in New York that she didn’t feel before, when she was so often shuttling between two homes. Jacqueline thinks the tree, and her grandmother’s presence, will unify her internal division.
Themes
The North and The South Theme Icon
bubble-gum cigarettes. Jacqueline and Maria walk to a bodega nearby to buy bubble-gum cigarettes. The two girls pretend to glamorously smoke their bubble-gum cigarettes until Odella comes out and says smoking is how Gunnar died. Then Maria and Jacqueline chew the cigarettes into gum and stop pretending to smoke.
Though Jacqueline and Maria mean no harm in their fake cigarette smoking, Odella’s painful reminder that smoking killed Gunnar shows Jacqueline how symbolism can still be upsetting. It recalls Jacqueline’s earlier naivety when she insisted to Robert that words are only words­— like in that instance, Jacqueline is only just learning how symbolic meaning can still have a significant impact.
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what’s left behind. MaryAnn tells Jacqueline that she reminds her of Gunnar while holding a picture of him in her hands. Together, they look at the picture, and Jacqueline tells MaryAnn that she remembers Gunnar’s laugh. Maryann smiles and says it’s because Jacqueline’s laugh is so much like Gunnar’s, calling them “two peas in a pod.”
MaryAnn and Jacqueline remember Gunnar, whom they both loved very deeply, in this touching anecdote. Woodson reminds the reader again how memory can be carried not only in active storytelling, but also in evocative sounds, words, objects, and in the body itself.
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Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Get the entire Brown Girl Dreaming LitChart as a printable PDF.
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the stories i tell. In the fall, Jacqueline’s teacher asks her class to write about their summer vacations. Most of the class goes South 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 that she has never been there. She fabricates the details of her life to make it more appealing to her, changing her religion and the composition of her family in the stories.
Jacqueline’s class assignment evokes painful memories of Greenville, where she no longer spends her summers. Instead of describing her summer in New York, or explaining why they no longer go to Greenville, Jacqueline invents stories about fake summer vacations. Once again, Jacqueline’s imagination allows her to escape from painful realities and memories as she sculpts an alternative, written reality.
Themes
Memory Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon
how to listen #8. Jacqueline remarks that “someone” is always asking “do you remember…?” and that the other person always responds affirmatively.
Harnessing memory, for Jacqueline, is not only a way to gain control over her own life, but also a way that she can connect with other people over shared history.
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Memory Theme Icon
fate & faith & reasons. As Jacqueline and Mama fold laundry together, Mama tells her that “everything happens for a reason,” and talks about how her sister Kay believed in fate. Mama tells her that the move to Brooklyn was part of their fate, and not an accident. When Jacqueline asks Mama what she believes in, Mama tells her she believes in “right now… the resurrection… Brooklyn” and her four children.
Mama and Jacqueline discuss the idea of fate and the concept that “everything happens for a reason,” topics which have a distinctly spiritual bent. Mama believes in fate like Kay did, telling Jacqueline that their move to Brooklyn was fate. This seems to surprise Jacqueline, whose mother does not attend church and generally seems to have a troubled relationship with religion. When Jacqueline asks her what she believes in, Mama lists a range of different things, showing that her spirituality, rather than being absent, is plural and diverse.
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what if…?. Jacqueline wonders what would have happened if Madison Street hadn’t been built, if Maria and she didn’t live near each other, if she had laughed at Maria’s nickname when they first met, or had had less in common. Maria says she can’t imagine any of that, and Jacqueline agrees.
As Jacqueline’s mind wanders, she wonders to Maria what their lives would have been like if various conditions hadn’t occurred. When Maria says she doesn’t want to think about it, Jacqueline’s agreement seems to indicate that she is identifying an aspect of imagining alternative reality that does not make her happy. This seems to be a new development.
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bushwick history lesson. Jacqueline learns about the history of Bushwick in class. She thinks about how before the neighborhood was populated by Germans, Dominicans, and African-Americans, it was settled by the Dutch, slaves, and freedmen. Jacqueline writes that she understands her own place in a long history.
As Jacqueline learns about the history of New York, it helps her situate herself in a larger narrative of the city’s institutional memory. Jacqueline begins to fit her own personal narrative into broader histories, including the founding of America and African-American history.
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Memory Theme Icon
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how to listen #9. Jacqueline writes secretly under the back porch.
Jacqueline’s relationship to language continues to be an important personal outlet for her.
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the promise land. Robert is freed from jail. During his time in prison, he converted to Islam, and he tells the children about his new faith. Jacqueline kneels beside him when he prays, curious about Mecca and the promised land he has told her about.
Robert’s conversion to Islam shows Jacqueline a new, alternative religion that is very different from the sect of Christianity she has always known. Perhaps it is Jacqueline’s dissatisfaction with her religion that fuels her curiosity about Robert’s practice.
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power to the people. After watching activist Angela Davis on television, Jacqueline walks the neighborhood with Maria, their fists raised to symbolize black power. They fantasize about joining the Black Panthers, an activist group that helps lead the Black Power Movement. Jacqueline doesn’t understand why Angela Davis is persecuted for her beliefs.
This poem shows Jacqueline connecting with the Black Power Movement, which grew out of the Civil Rights Movement and focused on promoting socialism and black pride. Though Jacqueline and Maria clearly are too young to truly understand the political significance of the movement, the energy surrounding it still excites them, and the image of Angela Davis appeals to them.
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Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
say it loud. Mama tells the children how the Black Panthers are organizing to help black children, and describes the free breakfast program they started for children in Oakland. The children sing black pride songs until Mama tells them to be quiet.
Mama, too, seems to subscribe to the social and political agenda of the Black Power Movement, as she praises the Black Panthers to her children. Still, she tells them to quiet down when they sing black pride songs— either because she is tired, or because she fears repercussions for the racial politics they imply.
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Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Jacqueline thinks about how white people and people of color live on opposite ends of Bushwick, and about the old woman in her neighborhood who gives them cookies and describes what Bushwick was like when it was all white. Jacqueline wonders what could make people “want to get along,” and she returns to watching Angela Davis on TV.
Jacqueline clearly cannot fully grasp the changing racial situation in America. She senses the implied judgment of the neighborhood woman who nostalgically tells them about the neighborhood when it was white, but she cannot fully articulate her discomfort. Jacqueline cannot understand why racial segregation occurs, or why people do not want to get along.
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Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
maybe mecca. Jacqueline describes a boy they call Leftie who says he lost his arm in the Vietnam War; 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 of the war are too painful. Jacqueline imagines Mecca is an intensely happy place, and she longs to go there.
Woodson mentions the Vietnam War for the first time in this poem, again situating Jacqueline’s life in the context of U.S. history. Jacqueline responds to Leftie’s sad memories of the war by imagining him escaping into his imagination, a place that Jacqueline thinks must be like Robert’s Mecca. Jacqueline believes that Robert and Leftie probably use their imaginations, like she does, in order to escape painful memories.
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Memory Theme Icon
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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 ponders the revolution, thinking of Shirley Chisholm, a black woman who ran for president. She says that when she hears the word revolution she thinks of a carousel, and this idea inspires her to write. As they arrive at the park, she toys with how she will put the idea into words.
Robert’s encouragement that the children learn about Black Power firsthand suggests that he distrusts the media outlets and how they portray the struggle for racial justice. Woodson shows the reader how the struggle for racial justice not only inspires Jacqueline and her family politically, but also inspires Jacqueline to make art. Jacqueline pays special attention to the sounds in the word “revolution,” as she is always so attentive to sound. While racism and race often cause problems for Jacqueline and her family, liberation serves as part of Jacqueline’s writerly inspiration.
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Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
how to listen #10. Jacqueline describes her writing process in a few words, and emphasizes the importance of listening.
Woodson shows Jacqueline to be aware not only of her desire to write, but of her writerly process.
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a writer. Jacqueline’s teacher Ms. Vivo reads one of Jacqueline’s poems and tells her that she is a writer. Jacqueline mentions that Ms. Vivo is a feminist, and so is a part of the revolution too. Jacqueline desperately wants to believe her claim that she is a writer. As she reads her poem aloud to the class, Jacqueline gains confidence.
Jacqueline admires her teacher, not only for her teaching skills, but also for her political inclination towards feminism and “the revolution.” Ms. Vivo encourages Jacqueline to write, but also states that she is a writer already, giving Jacqueline support and confidence in her goals. Jacqueline continues to gain confidence as she shares her work with classmates, hoping to feel, like Ms. Vivo does, that she is a writer.
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Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
every wish, one dream. When Jacqueline blows dandelion puffs, finds heads-up pennies, or wishes on stars, she wishes for only one thing: to be a writer. She senses that all of her reading, writing, experiences, and memories are bringing her closer to this dream.
Encouraged by Ms. Vivo’s praise and validation, Jacqueline devotes herself to her writerly dream. Her reading, writing, and daily experiences feel like they are purposeful and driving toward her goal. The reader gets a sense that Jacqueline has fully committed to her dream of being a writer and is determined to get there.
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the earth from far away. On Saturdays the children watch a television show called The Big Blue Marble. The opening theme shows a globe that zooms in on different countries to tell stories of children around the world. Jacqueline likes hearing the multitude of different stories, and feels inspired to write.
Jacqueline is inspired not only by her own life, which was previously the most prominent subject matter of her writing, but also by the breadth of stories of different people around the world. The television helps her to access these stories, and they inspire her to keep writing.
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what i believe. Jacqueline lists her beliefs, ranging from religious beliefs to the belief in the possibility of racial justice, to belief in her family and her neighborhood. She ends by saying that she believes in the future and the present.
Jacqueline, who has struggled with her relationship to religion throughout the text, at last seems to have crystallized her understanding of religion and her belief system. This belief list shows Jacqueline’s maturity compared with early part of the book, when her values were not yet clear.
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each world. Jacqueline states that there are “many worlds” a person can choose to “walk into each day.” These worlds include ones where she is as smart as Odella, ones where she is more like her brothers, or ones where she is a mother. Jacqueline’s ability to put herself in other’s shoes makes her feel loved in return. The plurality of the places where she feels at home (Ohio, South Carolina, Brooklyn) and the identities she carries (daughter, Jehovah’s Witness, writer, etc.) are also, to Jacqueline, different “worlds” that collapse into one personhood. Jacqueline has the sense that she can decide the terms of each world she lives in and what the ending to her story might be.
In her final poem of the book, Woodson shows the reader that Jacqueline has a fully developed worldview and a mature relationship to reading, writing, storytelling, and memory. To Jacqueline, language and storytelling allow her to walk through various different “worlds,” stepping into alternative realities, different consciousnesses, and past memories. Meanwhile, Jacqueline’s ability to control her own narrative has empowered her to reconcile her relationship with place (she now feels at home in the North and mentally visits the South of her memories), and has given her tools to think about race and racial justice. Together, this maturity gives Jacqueline a cohesive worldview and identity that makes her feel in control and powerful. At last, Jacqueline has become someone who can control her own story.
Themes
Memory Theme Icon
Racism, Activism, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements Theme Icon
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
The North and The South Theme Icon