Brown Girl, Brownstones is the first novel by the internationally recognized writer Paule Marshall, published in 1959. Paule Marshall was born in 1929 in Brooklyn. Her parents, Samuel and Ada Burke, had arrived separately from Barbados immediately after the First World War. Although Marshall was was nine before she visited Barbados, she was steeped into the colors, sounds, and culture of the island.
The novel opens in 1939 when Selina is 10. The setting is the quarter where the Caribbean immigrants settled in the brownstone apartment houses. This a period just after the Great Depression and jobs were scarce for everyone. Many Barbadians were employed in domestic work. Deighton Boyce exemplifies several of the problems that Barbadians and other immigrants faced. Even if he had finished all of his accounting qualifications, discrimination against black immigrants and black African American US citizens. was rife. Segregation in cafes, schools, beaches and on transport was the norm. Such segregation only began to change when the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and success in the 1960s.
The action of the novel ends a few years after the close of the war. Knowing the historical background - including the movement of immigrants and their fight to locate themselves in new environments - and understanding the US apartheid policies helps us to appreciate the bitterness of Selina's mother and the helpless acceptance of Deighton. It also helps us to understand the tensions that Selina must have felt.