Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming Summary and Analysis of Part II: the stories of south carolina run like rivers


our names

Part II takes place in South Carolina. Mary Ann moves the three children back to her mother and father's house, where Jacqueline says they took on new names: The Grandchildren, Gunnar's Three Little Ones (in reference to Jacqueline's grandfather), Sister Irby's Grands (in reference to Jacqueline's grandmother's religion as a Jehovah's Witness), and Mary Ann's Babies. When called by their real names, Jacqueline's grandmother would mush all three together, but her grandfather would speak slowly and give each name individuality.

ohio behind us

When Jacqueline and her siblings ask their mother how long they'll be staying in South Carolina, she tells them "for a while" (46) or to stop asking. She tells them that she used to belong in South Carolina, but now that her brother is dead, her sister has moved to New York City, and her other brother is planning to do the same, she wonders whether she should move there too.

the garden

Jacqueline's grandfather loves to work in his garden. His own grandfather had been a slave, and though he was born a free man, he still believes in the cycle of planting and waiting for the earth to "give[] back to you all that you've asked of it" (48).

gunnar's children

In the evening, the fireflies come out and Gunnar, Jacqueline's grandfather, comes home. He sings a song as he walks slowly down the road, and Jacqueline wonders whether her aunt Kay can hear it calling to her in New York. Jacqueline and her siblings run to him. They call him Daddy because it is what their mother calls him, and he calls them his children.

at the end of the day

Gunnar works at the printing press, and even though he's a foreman and should be called by his last name, the white men who work there only call him by his first name. Sometimes they don't listen to him because, as Jacqueline puts it, "Too fast for them./ The South is changing" (53). All of them live in a different town, since Nicholtown is home only to "Colored folks" (53).


So that Jacqueline, her siblings, and her mother can be fed, Jacqueline's grandmother takes on daywork cleaning houses two days a week on top of teaching part-time. She says that she's not ashamed, but she also warns the children "Don't any of you ever do daywork...I'm doing it now so you don't have to" (56). When she comes home from work, the children fight over who will get to rub her feet as they soak in a bath of Epsom salts. As they rub her feet, she tells stories about the terrible conditions of the houses she cleaned that day.


At night in South Carolina, Jacqueline hears crickets, frogs, dogs, and owls. The crickets always make noise latest into the night, and Jacqueline compares their sound to a lullaby.

bible times

Jacqueline's grandmother is very religious. At night, she reads the Bible to herself, and in the morning she tells the children Bible stories. The children ask many questions, but they also want to hear the rest of the story. Meanwhile, the season is changing from summer to autumn.

the reader

Jacqueline's older sister Odella loves to read. Often, she curls up with a book under the kitchen table, reading while snacking on milk and peanuts. The other children dance and sing in the kitchen, but she always remains focused on what she is reading.

the beginning

At 3 years old, Jacqueline learns to write the letter J with the help of her sister Odella. Jacqueline asks "Will the words end" (62) and Odella assures her they won't.


Hope, Jacqueline's brother, does not respond well to South Carolina: his skin becomes rough and itchy, his pollen allergy makes him short of breath, and he is generally slow and sickly. He also misses Ohio and his father, seemingly more than Odella or Jacqueline. Hope doesn't talk much anymore, burying himself in superhero comic books. Jacqueline believes he thinks of the South as "his mortal enemy...his Kryptonite" (65).

the almost friends

Many children live in the neighborhood of Jacqueline's grandparents. There is a boy with a hole in his heart who the three children spend time with; they tell him stories about New York City and Ohio, and they don't ask about the hole in his heart because their grandmother tells them not to. A girl named Cora and her sisters live down the road, but Jacqueline's grandmother won't let them play together because the mother of Cora left their family and ran off with the church pastor. Down the road, three brothers live in a house that is dark all day; they only come out late at night when their mother comes home from work. Jacqueline calls all of these children their "almost friends" (67), but her grandmother tells Jacqueline and her siblings that they should just play with one another.

the right way to speak

When Hope says the word ain't for the first time, their mother takes a branch and whips him violently on the legs. She tells them that they can't ever say the words ain't, huh, y'all, git, gonna, or ma'am. These words are related to the subservience of African Americans throughout Southern history, and mother says "You are from the North...You know the right way to speak" (69). Jacqueline and Odella are scared.

the candy lady

Gunnar takes the three children to the candy lady's house on Fridays. The children always look around in amazement at the different candies in the candy lady's living room, but after their grandfather announces that he will get ice cream, they always want that as well. They walk home quietly and contentedly, eating their ice cream before it melts.

south carolina at war

Jacqueline's grandfather tells them that people are marching in the South because they were supposed to be free in 1863, when slavery ended, but they still aren't. In Greenville, South Carolina, teenagers are peacefully protesting by "sitting/ where brown people still aren't allowed to sit/ and getting carried out, their bodies limp,/ their faces calm" (72). Their grandfather says that African Americans must be ready to die for what they believe in, and Jacqueline's siblings try to imagine death. Jacqueline's mother tries to sneak out to protest with her cousins; her mother catches her but simply says "Now don't go getting arrested" (73) and lets her go.

Jacqueline says that there is a war going on in South Carolina, and even though she doesn't actively join in, she is part of it.

the training

Jacqueline's mother's cousin Dorothy brings her children over, but they don't want to play with Jacqueline and her siblings because they speak in a fast, Northern way. The other children run off, and Jacqueline and her siblings stay at home listening to their mother and Dorothy talk about the protest trainings. To participate in the peaceful protests at restaurants and other locations, young people go through trainings about what to do when people curse, throw things, or try to move you. Dorothy says that even though she has gone through the trainings, if someone ever spits on her, she will not be peaceful in response.

the blanket

Mother leaves for a long weekend visit to New York City. The children are left with both of their grandparents for the weekend, who both love to spoil them even though grandmother complains about grandfather doing so. Jacqueline says that the children "don't know to be sad" (79) the first time their mother goes to New York because they are beneath a blanket of their grandparents' love.

miss bell and the marchers

Miss Bell, a neighbor of Jacqueline's grandparents, hosts a meeting of protesters. She works for a white woman who would fire her if she protested visibly, so she participates by giving protesters food and a place to meet.

how to listen #2

Jacqueline notices that when she and her family are in stores downtown, people follow them because they're African American.

hair night

On Saturday nights, grandmother does Odella and Jacqueline's hair in the kitchen. Smells of biscuits and burning hair mix because the way grandmother does the girls' hair is by heating up a comb and then using it to straighten their curls. Even though it is a painful process, Jacqueline can forget her discomfort when Odella reads stories to her.

family names

Jacqueline's grandmother and grandfather tell the children the names of their many siblings. The children laugh at grandfather's siblings' names, saying they aren't normal. Odella teases Hope for his name, saying it is a girl name and might be a mistake, even though they both know he is named for their grandfather.

american dream

Jacqueline's grandmother tells the children that people have been marching since her own children were young. She says that she let her daughters march one time, which was a very scary experience. She notes that people could live together if they wanted it, and Jacqueline thinks that it is clearly white people who don't want integration in the South.

Grandmother suddenly switches from talking about living in an integrated, equal country to a story about Jacqueline's mother. When Jacqueline's mother was young she wanted a dog, but her mother wouldn't let her get one. She brought kittens home and soon her grandmother came to love them and let her keep them.

the fabric store

When grandmother takes Jacqueline and her siblings downtown, there are many stores grandmother won't go into because they treat African Americans differently. However, in the fabric store, grandmother feels they are treated equally, even though it is run by a white woman.


The signs that say "White Only" have been painted over in downtown Greenville, but on bathroom doors where not a lot of paint was used, you can still see the words through the paint.

the leavers

Many people begin leaving Greenville to make a life in the city, believing African Americans can do better there. The author compares moving from Greenville to the city to crossing the River Jordan into Paradise.

the beginning of the leaving

When Jacqueline's mother comes back from New York, she has a plan for the family to move there together. The children are sad about this, as is their grandmother.

as a child, i smelled the air

Mama continues talking about New York, saying that "New York doesn't smell like this" (95) as she drinks coffee on the front porch in South Carolina. Jacqueline and her mother are alone together, and Jacqueline savors the special time together, describing her mother's appearance and the environment around them in detail. The author foreshadows, writing "the air is what I'll remember./ Even once we move to New York" (95).

harvest time

Daddy's garden is bountiful, colorful, and ready to harvest. Jacqueline is amazed once again that her grandfather's skill and care can create food where there was nothing before.

grown folks' stories

At night, Hope, Dell, and Jacqueline listen to their grandmother talking to whatever neighbor comes by. They must be absolutely silent or else they will be sent to bed. They learn all kinds of information from these conversations, and after they go inside together Jacqueline repeats the stories until her siblings fall asleep.


Jacqueline's grandfather smokes a lot of cigarettes. He begins to cough often and not have enough breath to sing on his walk home.

how to listen #3

Jacqueline startles awake to the sound of her grandfather coughing late at night.

my mother leaving greenville

In the late autumn, Jacqueline's mother leaves for New York City again. Hope is still upset by the memory of his father, and he tells Jacqueline that she's lucky that she doesn't remember their father and mother fighting.

halfway home #1

Mother says that she is going to find the family a home in New York City, a place of her own. She tells the children that they are halfway home, and Jacqueline imagines her standing by a road with arms pointing North and South. She wonders if they will "always have to choose/ between home/ and home" (104).

my mother looks back on greenville

After the children have gone to bed, their mother leaves for New York once again. She sits in the back of the bus with her purse in her lap, looking out the window at darkness and feeling hope.

the last fireflies

Now that the children know they are leaving South Carolina soon, they savor catching fireflies at night and setting them free. They pray to stay in Greenville.


With mother gone and the knowledge of leaving soon, evenings become quiet. Weeks continue to pass, with grandmother doing the girls' hair like usual. The children sit on the porch, shivering because winter is coming, and talk about how they'll come back to Greenville in the summer and do everything the same. However, they know that by the time they come back Greenville will have changed, and so will they.

sterling high school, greenville

While mother is in New York, her old high school burns down. The fire occurs during a school dance, and mother says it was probably retailiation for African American students at the school having protested. Instead of combining the African-American students with white students at a nearby high school, they have to crowd into the Black lower school. In mother's high school yearbook, the children find pictures of mother, Dorothy, and Jesse Jackson, who would later run for president.


When mother leaves, grandmother begins making the children Jehovah's Witnesses like her. Before, their mother told her to let them choose their own faith, but grandmother feels differently. She tells the children to use the Bible as their sword and shield, and Jacqueline notes that they do not understand what they are fighting for or against.

the stories cora tells

Cora and her sisters from down the road come over in the evening and talk to Jacqueline and Odella. Hope sits by himself, not wanting to associate with girls. Their grandmother no longer chides them to not spend time with the girls. When Jacqueline steps on a mushroom, Cora and her sisters say that the Devil is going to come for her. Jacqueline cries until her grandmother shoos the other girls home and tells her that those girls are lying and spreading "crazy southern superstition" (115).

hall street

Now in the evening, instead of playing, Jacqueline and her siblings study the Bible. They are now called Brother Hope, Sister Dell, and Sister Jacqueline, and Brothers and Sisters from Kingdom Hall, the Jehovah's Witness church, come over on Monday nights for Bible study. Grandfather goes elsewhere during these meetings, having fun with his brother Vertie. The children wish they could also be elsewhere enjoying life instead of focusing on Heaven.


When the phone rings, the children run from wherever they are and fight over who will get to talk to their mother. Grandmother always takes the phone first, telling the children they can talk to their mother soon.

how i learn the days of the week

Jacqueline learns the days of the week by their engagements at Jehovah's Witnesses on each day of the week. On Monday they have Bible study at home, on Tuesday they have Bible study at Kingdom Hall, on Wednesday they do laundry at home, on Thursday they go to Ministry School, on Friday night they are free to play, on Saturday they knock on doors to spread Jehovah's Witness beliefs, and on Sunday they study at Kingdom Hall again. Each week is the same.


Odella and Jacqueline wear ribbons in their hair every day except Saturday, when they wash and iron them. They want to be old enough to stop wearing ribbons and hope they will blow away while they dry on the clothesline.

two gods, two worlds

Early Sunday morning, grandmother is ironing the children's Sunday clothes when Daddy (their grandfather) comes in, coughing violently. He doesn't believe in the same God as grandmother; specifically, he refuses to accept a God who would make him fearful to drink, smoke, or live his life the way he wants to. Jacqueline feels conflicted because Jehovah's Witnesses believe that everyone who doesn't follow their God will be destroyed in a great battle, but she doesn't want to believe in a God that would make her have to choose between him and her grandfather.

what god knows

Jacqueline, her siblings, and her grandmother pray for grandfather, but he tells them that he doesn't need their prayers because God sees that he works hard and treats people right.

new playmates

Mother sends home brown dolls from New York and writes about all the beauty and wonder of the city. She writes about the ocean, toy stores, celebrities, skyscrapers, and hair salons. Jacqueline says that only the dolls are real to them, since that's what they can actually see. She and Dell pretend to be the mothers of the dolls, and like their mother they pretend to write letters to the dolls saying "Coming to get you soon" (126).

down the road

Grandmother reminds the children not to play too aggressively with the boy from down the street who has a hole in his heart. They sit quietly with him and answer his questions about New York City. He says he wants to move there one day, but when he looks off into the distance he looks the wrong way.

god's promise

Christmas season comes and Jacqueline and her siblings are angry. On Sunday afternoons when they are made to play inside, Cora and her sisters play on their swing set, teasing them.

the other infinity

Grandmother chides the children, telling them that everything, from the swing set to each breath they take, is a gift from God. Dell protests, saying the swings came from their grandfather, but grandmother says he earns his money with the strength God gave him. The children are silent, not understanding or believing but still forced to give up five days a week for "God's work" (129). Jacqueline's sister explains the word "eternity" (130), and Jacqueline thinks about how things that are bad won't last forever and good things can last a long time.

sometimes, no words are needed

Deep in winter, Jacqueline sits under a blanket with her head against grandfather's arm. She is comforted by his presence and knows that no words are needed.

the letter

A letter comes from mother, written in print so the children can read it. She says that she's coming to take them to New York. Jacqueline thinks about how she was about to start school in Nicholtown, and she frets about all the things they'll miss in Greenville, like fireflies and their grandparents. What Jacqueline misses while thinking about this is her sister reading that her mother is having another baby.

one morning, late winter

One morning, grandfather is too sick to walk to the bus to take him to work. He stays in bed all day and Jacqueline takes care of him. He asks for a story so she tells him one.

new york baby

Jacqueline knows that when her mother arrives, she will no longer be the baby of the family. She realizes that she's grown so big that she overflows her grandmother's lap, and she is sad that she'll be losing her position in the family to become "just a regular girl" (135).

leaving greenville

Mother arrives late at night and the children wake up to hug her. She tucks them back into bed where they sleep together in a bed covered with quilts. She tells them that tomorrow they'll get to meet their baby brother, and Jacqueline falls asleep with her arms wrapped around her mother's hand.


Their new baby brother is named Roman. He is another boy, making two boys and two girls in the family. Jacqueline wants to send the baby back, and she pinches him to make him cry. Dell soothes the baby, saying the loud crying is Jacqueline's punishment. Roman gets quiet and looks at Dell trustingly.


Part II of Brown Girl Dreaming is titled "the stories of south carolina run like rivers" (43). Woodson uses lots of imagery of rivers in her memoir, including at the end of Part I when her family returns to Ohio before her parents separate permanently. Stories are also a major theme in the story, especially beginning in Part II when Jacqueline starts to tell lies, or made up stories. This title ties rivers and stories together by comparing the ways they flow from place to place and person to person. It is an apt title for Part II, because during this time Jacqueline connects with both nature and her family's history and the way they are intertwined.

While Part I focused on Jacqueline's father's side of the family, Part II introduces many important characters from Jacqueline's mother's side. Perhaps the most important to Jacqueline is Gunnar Irby, who the children call Daddy though he is actually their grandfather. Jacqueline is the closest to him out of all four children, and she greatly respects his relationship to nature and his willingness to be different. The relationship that is built during this part of the book is important because the roles will later reverse; Daddy Gunnar grows weak from lung cancer as the story progresses, and Jacqueline must care for him in his last days.

One major theme that is introduced in Part II is religion. Jacqueline's mother is not strongly religious, but when she leaves the three children with her parents and begins to spend long stretches in New York City, Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline are forced to become Jehovah's Witnesses. From the first poem where religion is introduced, "faith" (112), Jacqueline clearly has misgivings about the religion. She recalls that her grandmother told the children to "Let the Bible...become your sword and your shield" (112), and she critically notes in her mind that, "...we do not know yet/ who we are fighting/ and what we are fighting for" (113). This quote communicates the confusion and fear that accompanied being thrust into her grandmother's religious routine at such a young age. She also questions Jehovah's Witnesses' belief that only practitioners of their religion will be saved. Because her beloved grandfather is a non-believer, she thinks, "I want the word where my daddy is/ and don't know why/ anybody's God would make me/ have to choose" (123).

The introduction of religion as a theme and major plot element in Part II is accompanied by a slew of religious allusions. One of the most interesting allusions the author includes is in the form of a simile in the poem "the leavers" (93). Woodson writes, "They say a colored person can do well going [to the City]./ All you need is the fare out of Greenville./ All you need is to know somebody on the other side,/ waiting to cross you over./ Like the River Jordan/ and then you're in Paradise" (93). The River Jordan, which is a long river in the modern day Middle East, carries significance from many important stories in the Old Testament and New Testament. Crossing the Jordan River into Paradise or the Promised Land is specifically referenced in the book of Joshua. The story is about settling in to a new home and having faith in God, which carries resonance in Jacqueline's story as it applies to African Americans having faith that moving to urban areas will lead to a better life. It is interesting that Georgiana, who is the most religious character in the book, does not feel drawn to leave the rural South while her children, who are not very religious, have the blind faith referenced in this poem.

A major moment of Jacqueline's growth comes at the end of Part II when Jacqueline's mother brings Roman, Jacqueline's younger brother, to meet the three older siblings for the first time. Jacqueline is suddenly forced out of her role as the youngest child, something that made her feel special and comfortable within her family. She must reckon with the fact that she is growing, with all of the opportunities and responsibilities this brings. In a moment of humorous parallel, Jacqueline thinks that she wants to "send it back to wherever/ babies live before they get here" (138), just like Hope wanted to do when Jacqueline came home from the hospital, saying "Take her back. We already have one of those" (19).