(Introduction): Throughout her novel, The Women of Brewster Place, Ms. Naylor emphasizes the importance of sister hood by showing how the women are strengthened by their relationships with one another and proving that men are not necessary to their survival or happiness.
Thesis: The strengthening of women through other women is illustrated by Matties role as a daughter to Miss Eva, a sister to Etta Mae, and a mother to Lucielia.
PARA 2: Miss Eva Turner plays a vital role in Matties life by taking her in during her loneliness and destitution and treating Mattie and Basil as if they are her own family.
PARA 3: The sisterhood between Mattie and Etta Mae is illustrated by each womans willingness to help the other through their most trying times.
PARA 4: Ironically, Mattie is a more effective mother figure to Ciel than she proves to be to her own son.
Conclusion: Mattie touched the lives of Ms. Eva, Etta Mae and Lucielia. The role Mattie played in each womans life was critical. Mattie has will always be an African American woman whose words and actions are grounded in reality. Together these women do what one woman could not do aloneremove pain.
The Strengthening of Women through Other Women in The Women of Brewster Place
Gloria Naylors book, The Women of Brewster Place, focuses on seven black female residents of the dead-end street, Brewster Place, and the interweaving of their lives. As they cope with living in a racist and sexist society, they encounter further abuse from their own husbands, lovers, and children. One of the main characters, Mattie Michael, brings love and special attention to the lives of many of the women of Brewster place. She is a rich, cocoa woman who defies her overprotective to take man who was pure temptation. Pregnant and disowned, she makes the instinctive decision to live without a man and invest all her love back into her child (Gottlieb, 1483). However, the spoiled son who results causes her to lose her home, and she is left heart broken and destitute. Left in the lurch by her errant son, Mattie becomes an anchor for many of the other women of Brewster place. During the course of her lifetime, Mattie comes to know three women- Miss Eva Turner, Etta Mae Johnson, and Lucielia Louise Turner- who all impact her life in a distinct way. Throughout her novel, Gloria Naylor emphasizes the importance of sisterhood by showing how the women are strengthened by their relationships with one another and proving that men are not necessary to their survival or happiness. The strengthening of women through other women is illustrated by Matties role as a daughter to Miss Eva, a sister to Etta Mae, and a mother to Lucielia.
Miss Eva Turner plays a vital role in Matties life by taking her in during her loneliness and destitution and treating Mattie and Basil as if they are a part of her own family. When Mattie first meets Miss Eva, she and her son are homeless and Mattie is at the end of her rope. Mattie, a single young mother, had been living alone with her son in a boarding home and working a minimum wage job to make ends meet. When she wakes up one night to find Basil, her son, crying and bleeding from a rat bite, Mattie leaves the run down apartment with her son and all her belongings, determined to find somewhere permissible to live. Mattie comes across Miss Eva just as she is deciding to give up her search and take a bus back home to her parents. In her disarray she circles Miss Evas block twice and is startled when Miss Eva calls out asking Where is she heading with that pretty red baby (Naylor, 30). Miss Eva shows concern for Mattie even in the very first moments of their time together. She is able to read the confusion and weariness in young Matties face and she immediately offers her assistance. Mattie is somewhat startled by Miss Evas appearance and forwardness. Miss Eva is an old woman with European features, yellow skin with watery blue eyes, but she speaks with a black voice. Her many inquiries about Matties circumstance cause Mattie to ponder the womans intentions and she acts rather awkward towards her. However Miss Eva, underneath her overbearing manner, is kindhearted and generous and she recognizes Matties present need. Miss Eva looks at the way Mattie holds her child and she understands (3). The old woman realizes that Mattie is young, alone, and at that moment, homeless. She reaches out to Mattie and eventually extends to her an invitation to stay in her home for the night. Mattie accepts the invitation and immediately Miss Evas motherly treatment of Mattie and Basil begins. As they are entering the house Miss Eva takes Basil from Mattie and coos and talks to the baby and Mattie as if she has known them for years (32). The entire night she refers to Mattie as child and handles the Baby as if he were one of her own. She prepares a home cooked meal of pot roast, oven-browned potatoes, and string beans for Mattie and she insists on feeding the baby while Mattie enjoys the meal. Miss Eva offers to let Mattie live in her home for as long as she likes for no charge and she willingly accepts the company of Basil for her granddaughter. Mattie, who has grown to be untrusting because of her past experiences, eventually finds herself opening up to this woman whom she just met. Miss Evas compassion is a sudden relief that comes just in time for Mattie. For the first time in a several months Mattie is not alone and she has someone with whom she can share her life, her thoughts, and her struggles. Miss Eva too is pleased by the newfound companionship and together the women begin to reveal their lives to one another.
In the abashed fashion of the old, Miss Eva unfolded her own life to Mattie, and without realizing she was being questioned, Mattie found herself talking about things that she had buried within in her. The young black women and the old yellow woman sat in the kitchen talking for hours, blending their lives so that what lay behind one and ahead of the other became indistinguishable (34)
In the short time that the women spend together that night, they form a lasting bond that is superior that of any friendship.
In the years that follow, Mattie grows to accept Miss Eva as a mother figure to her and her son. Miss Eva provides them with a home, food, and the loving care that a mother would provide for her children. Miss Eva expresses a great deal of concern for Mattie and her happiness. She questions Mattie about her social life and her love life. She even questions Mattie about the way she raises Basil arguing that Basil is spoiled and that he needs a bed of his own. Miss Eva meddles in Matties life just like a real mother, but she only does it out of love and concern. Although Mattie is often angered by Miss Evas interference in her life, she can never feel anything but love and gratitude for her. At times when Mattie gets frustrated she remembers Miss Evas age and the short but precious time they have left together. Mattie finds it very to imagine facing the loss of another mother (39). Miss Eva is truly a mother to Mattie. She shows her so much love and acceptance and gives her so much at a time when she has nothing. When Miss Eva passes, Mattie remains in the house with Basil. She knows Miss Eva wants her spirit to remain in the house through the memory of someone who was capable of loving it as mush as she had (40). Through her kindness and love, Miss Eva gave Mattie a chance to survive and live a fulfilling life in the company of those she cared most about.
The sisterhood between Mattie and Etta Mae is illustrated by each womans willingness to help the other through their most trying times. Etta Mae is the only person Mattie confides in after her pregnancy. After she leaves her home, her mother, and her father, Etta Mae is the only person Mattie can turn to. When Mattie arrives in North Carolina for the first time, Etta Mae is waiting to greet her. Knowing that her friend has been through a lot of pain in the past months, she offers her nothing but kind words and gentle humor. Etta Mae helps Mattie take her mind off of some of the pain by joking lightheartedly about her babys appearance and his potential. Etta proves her loyalty to her friend simply by being there for her. She has long become bored with her current location and circumstance and she plans to leave and go to New York, but instead she stays and waits for Mattie to arrive and get settled. Etta Mae lets Mattie know that she was ready to leave months ago, but when Mattie wrote and said she was comin, she stuck around to see her settled with the baby (27). Etta put her friends needs before her own concerns. She recognizes how important her presence is to her friend right now and she sacrifices her own happiness to stay and console Mattie. Etta even invites Mattie to come along with her to New York but Mattie turns down her enthusiastic invitation. Etta Mae stays with Mattie six weeks to help with the baby and make sure Mattie is settled. When she does finally leave, she leaves Mattie eight cases of condensed milk and coupons for fifty pounds of sugar. Etta Mae is not much more well off than Mattie but she still does everything in her power to provide comfort and assistance to her friend.
Later in the novel, Etta Mae visits Mattie on Brewster place but this time it is Etta Mae who is in need of a friends encouragement. Etta Johnson has traveled through many major cities in search of the good life and the right man and by the time Etta comes to Brewster place her dreams have been dissipated in her pursuit of good times (Hairston, 1484). Mattie welcomes Etta into her home with open loving arms. Her searching and traveling have defeated Etta Mae but she finds almost instant relief in the presence of Mattie. When she enters Matties small apartments she breathes deeply from the freedom she finds in Matties presence. There she has no choice but to be herself (Naylor, 58). During the course of their lives, Mattie and Etta have taken totally different roads but they still managed to maintain a deep friendship. Even though Mattie doesnt approve of many aspects of her friends lifestyle, she remains loyal to her. Mattie is never judgmental; she accepts Etta Mae and all of her faults. She gives her a place to stay and they share life stories and humor with each other. When Etta attends church with Mattie, she is not as much interested in soul searching as she is in searching for a man. Etta happiness still remains in men. Thus, she finds herself listening, not to the reverends sermon but to her old instincts telling her to lasso someone who can support her in the style that complemented the type of woman she has fought all these years to become (Hairston, 1484). Despite admonishment and warning from Mattie, Etta engages herself with the good reverend who proves to be just as much a man of the world as of the cloth. When Etta comes home with her dreams of marrying the respectable preacher sordidly ended, she finds Mattie was waiting up to meet and comfort her (Gottlieb, 1483). Matties love for Etta is unfailing, like that of a real sister. Etta realizes that no man can ever offer her the type of love and loyalty that Mattie has given her. She has loved one man too many and even though she comes to Brewster place defeated, she finds light and love and comfort in the friendship of Mattie (Aull, 1; Naylor, 74)
Ironically, Mattie is a more effective mother figure to Ciel than she proves to be to her own son. However, Matties failed relationship with Basil teaches her valuable lessons that help her to be a more effective mother on Brewster place. Matties mistake with Basil is that she uses him to fill a void. She loves the fact that he was solely dependent on her and that her bed hasnt been empty since Basil was born (38). Mattie spoils Basil to the point he would always has to have his way. He knows his mother will always be there for him, and because of that, he takes advantage of her. Mattie is determined not to make the same mistakes she made with Basil with Ciel. It is hard for Mattie to watch the turmoil and sadness Lucielia has to encounter in her love life. It is like watching her child suffer. However, Mattie lets Lucielia take control of her own life and learn from the consequences as well. She never tells her what to do, she just listens and gives her support. When Lucielia questions Matties approval of her, Mattie shoots back a loving but uninvolved answer, Its your life, honey (91).
Ever since Lucielia moves to Brewster Place, Mattie shows concern for her in a motherly fashion.. When Ciel is abandoned by her man in a time of suffering, Mattie takes on a more active role as her mother and Lucielia gains from Mattie the determination to survive her time of tribulation. Lucielia loses her only child to a tragic accident. The death of her daughter is devastating to her. Not only does she lose her daughter, but her selfish, incompetent boyfriend and father of her child abandons her as well. Lucielias unfortunate circumstances leave her literally dying of grief and rage. She completely gives up her will to live, and until Matties intervention, she is close to death. Mattie is also grief stricken by the death of Lucielias daughter, but it is hurting her more to watch someone who she has accepted as her own daughter put herself through such physical and emotional turmoil. Matties love for Lucielia, whom she calls Ciel, is evident even before the childs death through her constant concern about Lucielias situation with her boyfriend. Her love is now demonstrated by her unfailing attempts to nurse her daughter back to health. Mattie refuses to sit back and watch Ciel kill herself. Mattie cries out a prayer and desperate to protect her young, surges into Lucielias room. While Ciel moans, Mattie rocks her back to life.
Mattie rocked her out of that bed, out of that room, into a blue vastness just underneath the sun and above time. She rocked her over Aegean seas so clear they shone like crystal, so clear the fresh blood of sacrificed babies torn from their mother’s arms and given to Neptune could be seen like pink froth on the water. She rocked her on and on, past Dachau, where soul-gutted Jewish mothers swept their children’s entrails off laboratory floors. They flew past the spilled brains of Senegalese infants whose mothers had dashed them on the wooden sides of slave ships. And she rocked on (103).
She magnificently wrestles Ciel, dying of grief, back to life (Gottlieb p.1484). Matties motherly love and commitment heal and renew Lucielia physically and mentally. Author Felice Aull comments,
It is Matties intervention and her ability to place Lucielias 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 life saving and healing intervention (Aull, 2)
Mattie takes on the role of a mother when she nurses Ciel back to health. Mattie treats and nurses Lucielia as if handling a newborn(Naylor, 104). She gives Lucielia the determination to live and she does. For the first time since her daughters death Lucielia cries. However, Mattie is overjoyed because she knows the tears will endand morning will come (Naylor, 105).
Mattie touched the lives of Ms. Eva, Etta Mae and Lucielia. They all needed eachother. The role Mattie played in each womans life was critical.All these women vary in age and personal background. However, what they do share is a common oppression and, more importantly, a spiritual strength and sense of female closeness. Mattie was the backbone of these women. All the women found light, love and comfort in the friendship of Mattie. Mattie has will always be an African American woman whose words and actions are grounded in reality. Together these women do what one woman could not do aloneremove pain.
Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors, Gale, Second
Gottieb, Annie. Women Together. The New York Times Book Review, August 2
1982 pp. 11, 25. Rpt. in Black Literature Criticism. Ed. Shoaron Malinowski. vol.106.
Hairston, Loyle. The Women of Brewster Place Review. The New YorkTimes
BookReview, July 10 1983 pp.12, 15,20. Rpt. in Black Literature Criticism. Ed. Shoaron Mailinowski. Vol. 1o6
Naylor, Gloria. The Women of Brewster Place. New York: Penguin, 1983.
Naylor, Gloria: The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories 2 Mar. 2000