The author and main character of Brown Girl Dreaming. The book follows Jacqueline from birth until fifth grade, over which time she explores concepts of race, home, nature, learning, and writing. Jacqueline has strong positive relationships with her mother, sister, two brothers, grandmother Georgiana, and especially her grandfather Gunnar. She feels a great loss when Gunnar, who she and her siblings call Daddy, dies. Jacqueline loves to tell stories, some of which others consider lies. Her dream is to become a writer, and she writes her first book, a collection of poems about butterflies, in elementary school.
Odella, also called Dell, is Jacqueline's older sister. They are not born long apart, so strangers sometimes mistake them for twins. However, the girls are quite different. While Jacqueline struggles in school, Odella is a strong and avid reader from early childhood. She is called gifted by teachers and wins awards throughout elementary school, eliciting praise from the family. Odella is named after their mother's older brother Odell, who died shortly before Odella's birth.
Hope is Jacqueline's older brother. He is very quiet in early childhood and seems to be more affected than his siblings by the separation of their parents. As he grows up, he comes to love comic books, superheroes, and science. He is named after his father's father, and he is made fun of by other children for having a name more commonly used for girls.
Roman is the fourth and youngest of the Woodson siblings. Unlike the other siblings, who were born in Ohio to Mary Ann Irby and Jack Woodson, Roman is born in New York to Mary Ann Irby and an unknown other person. Roman looks different from the other siblings from a young age because of his light skin color. However, he has a gap in his teeth that matches all three of his siblings. Roman eats lead paint as a child, causing him to have problems with his brain development. For this reason, he is absent in the hospital for a long stretch of Jacqueline's childhood. He eventually returns home from the hospital permanently.
Mary Ann Irby
Mary Ann Irby is Jacqueline's mother. She is the daughter of Gunnar and Georgiana Irby from South Carolina. She was married to Jack Woodson, the father of Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline, for at least three years, but separated from him not long after Jacqueline's birth, in part because she didn't feel comfortable in Ohio and he didn't feel comfortable in the South. Mary Ann decides to move the family to New York City, leaving her three children with Jack Woodson living with her parents in South Carolina. When she returns to take her children to New York City with her, she has given birth to her fourth and final child, Roman.
Jack Woodson is the father of Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline. He is only present in Part I of Brown Girl Dreaming, because the he and Mary Ann Irby separate at the end of Part I and he does not remain in contact with the children. His family, the Woodsons, are very proud because they are descended from president Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Jack went to college on a football scholarship. Jacqueline, the main character of the story, is named after him.
Caroline (Kay) Irby
Caroline Irby is Jacquline's aunt, the sister of Jacqueline's mother. Jacqueline's family live in the same building as Aunt Kay when they move to New York City, but after Aunt Kay dies unexpectedly, they move to another area of the city.
Robert Irby is Jacqueline's uncle—her mother's younger brother. He is sent to jail during Jacqueline's childhood, which is an impactful experience for her.
Odell Irby is Jacqueline's mother's older brother. He dies shortly before her second child is born, leading her to name the child (Jacqueline's older sister) Odella after him.
Georgiana Irby is the mother of Mary Ann Irby, Jacqueline's mother. Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline live with her and Gunnar for a large amount of their early childhood while Mary Ann is living in New York City. Since Georgiana grew up in the early 1900s in the South, she has strong memories of the outright oppression of African Americans. Even when Jim Crow laws are abolished, she refuses to shop at stores that mistreated her or other African Americans. She is a devout Jehovah's Witness and makes Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline practice her religion as well, even when they move to New York City.
Gunnar Irby is Jacqueline's grandfather, the father of Mary Ann Irby, but the children call him "Daddy." Of all Mary Ann's children, Jacqueline is closest to Gunnar. Gunnar believes in nature and farming, and he does not share Georgiana's religious faith. When he dies, presumably of lung cancer, Jacqueline is devastated.
Maria is Jacqueline's best friend in New York City. Her family is Puerto Rican, and through her family Jacqueline is exposed to the Spanish language and Puerto Rican food. Maria and Jacqueline become so close that they dress alike for an entire year and get asked by strangers whether they are cousins.
Brown Girl Dreaming Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Brown Girl Dreaming is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.