Promising to never call New York home (situational irony)
In the poem "new york city," Jacqueline and her siblings arrive in New York for the first time. Jacqueline is confused and distressed that New York looks nothing like she thought it would, and she ends the poem with the statement "This place is loud and strange/ and nowhere I'm every going to call/ home" (143). She continues to think of South Carolina as home, as evidenced by her continuing distaste for New York life and by titling the chapter in which she and her siblings go to South Carolina for the summer "going home again." However, by the end of this visit, Jacqueline starts to realize that she is not perfectly at home in either place; she titles the last chapter of this section "home then home again" to emphasize this notion.
Throughout Part III, IV, and V, Jacqueline grows to see New York as more of her home than South Carolina. She attends school, makes a best friend, and learns about the history of New York, specifically Brooklyn and Bushwick. While there is no one moment where Jacqueline acknowledges she spoke to soon about never calling New York City home, the reader comes to realize the naïveté of her statement and the irony of her deep love for the place with all its imperfections.
Not writing about the family (dramatic irony)
A humorous use of dramatic irony appears in the poem "poem on paper" in Part IV of Brown Girl Dreaming. In this section of the book, Jacqueline gets more interested in writing and telling stories, and she even completes her first book, a small collection of poems about butterflies. When her mother sees Jacqueline writing she tells her, "Just so long as you're not writing about our family" (275). The dramatic irony of this statement comes from the fact that the quote is included in a book Woodson wrote about her family. Though at this moment Jacqueline could not know that she would later write the book, the audience—by definition—knows that she will be writing directly about her family, even about this specific instance in which she is told not to.
Dreaming of becoming a writer (situational and dramatic irony)
In addition to the dramatic irony of Jacqueline dreaming of being a writer, since the reader knows this dream will eventually come true, Jacqueline's choice of future career is also an example of situational irony. Reading and writing are very difficult for Jacqueline, and compared to her more academics-minded siblings, she would rather be doing something physical like helping in the garden or running around with friends from the block. This makes a career as a writer unlikely for her, and this irony is clear from her family members suggesting other careers they think would be more appropriate.
Never sitting in the back of a bus (situational irony)
Woodson creates tension through irony in the back-to-back poems "journey" (29) and "greenville, south carolina, 1963" (30-31). In the first poem, "journey," Jacqueline's father tells his children that "...there's never gonna be a Woodson/ that sits in the back of the bus" (29). The irony occurs in the following poem, "greenville, south carolina, 1963," when Jacqueline's mother immediately takes the three children (all of whom, of course, carry the last name Woodson) to the back of the bus. This ironic juxtaposition shows the disconnect between how African Americans were treated in the North and how they were expected to behave in the South.
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.