In Brown Girl, Brownstones, Paule Marshall depicts feminist characters who embody bravery, anguish, and the unbending determination to strain past their circumstances, demanding to be heard and to be visible. Claudia Jones would undoubtedly identify with Silla, the mother of the story, who is headstrong, ambitious, and who is a first-generation immigrant to America. Silla posits that in the, “White man world you got to take yah mouth and make a gun.” Just as Claudia Jones spoke at a time when her words would earn her scorn, jailing, and eventually banishment, Silla speaks her mind in the often hostile presence of her “beautiful-ugly” husband Deighton, and to the other people who dare enter her presence. Silla does not shy away from what she sees as the oppression of her people in many ways. She declares, “The rum shop and the church join together to keep we pacify in ignorance.” She refuses to just accept her circumstances, and rails against her husband, who is a dreamer and does not have the fire, determination, or seemingly the foresight of his wife.
Yet, the consequences for Silla’s determination is steep. Driven by the hardship she faced as a child, and in her efforts to keep poverty at bay, she secretly sells the land her husband inherited. Deighton is a troubled character, with very little self-esteem. In retaliation for Silla’s treacherous act, he takes the money she received from the sale of the land and buys expensive and useless Christmas presents. It is a powerful scene in the novel. He inexplicably wants his family to be happy with the purchases he spent 900 dollars on, money that could have been a down payment on a home. Marshall writes, “The mother heard and lifted her head. A mist covered her eyes, and her lids were puffed as though she were crying without tears. “Yes, nuh,” she whispered, “take it all out my sight, do! Over nine . . . hundred odd dollars . . . cash throw . . . ’way. . .” While she wept without tears, without even a tremor, Selina gathered up the wreckage of the day.” Judged by his family and his community for his “900 dollar cash throw away” he eventually commits suicide. This devastates Silla’s family. Was Silla wrong for wanting something more for herself, for her daughters, and even for her husband, who relentlessly cheated on her? Was it a betrayal to desire homeownership, a thing she could not have even imagined when she was a little girl, living in poverty and considered to be in Third Class? I believe that Claudia Jones would have applauded her ambitions, if not her direct efforts, and would have understood the gnawing desire to own something, when you come from so little.