Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming Summary and Analysis of Part V: ready to change the world


after greenville #2

Grandmother Georgiana sells the house in South Carolina, gives away clothing and furniture, and moves in with the family in Brooklyn. Jacqueline says that "spring blurs into summer/ then winter comes on too cold and fast" (283), likely because she is so emotionally affected by her grandfather's death. Grandmother takes to looking out the window for long stretches, and Jacqueline learns and improves at double Dutch.

mimosa tree

Grandmother brought seeds for a mimosa tree from home, and it starts to grow in the winter. The tree brings hope and memories of home.

bubble-gum cigarettes

Maria and Jacqueline buy bubble-gum cigarettes at the bodega and have fun pretending they're smoking "like the movie stars on TV" (286). Odella scolds Jacqueline, saying smoking is why Daddy Gunnar died, and after this Jacqueline doesn't want to play any more.

what's left behind

Grandmother tells Jacqueline that she reminds her of Daddy Gunnar. They look at his picture together, and she tells grandmother that she remembers how he laughed, and grandmother says they were "two peas in a pod" (289). Jacqueline has trouble putting into words "the feeling of knowing/ that every dying person leaves something behind" (288).

the stories i tell

When the teacher asks students to write about what they did over the summer, Jacqueline makes up fantastic, fake stories. The children ask whether the things in the stories really happened, and she says yes.

how to listen #8

Jacqueline notices that people are always asking, "Do you remember...?" (292) and that someone always does remember.

fate & faith & reasons

As Jacqueline and her mother fold laundry together, separating white and colored clothes, mother talks about how everything happens for a reason. Jacqueline thinks about birds going south in winter. She asks her mother what she believes in, and mother says that she believes in right now, the resurrection, Brooklyn, and her four children.

what if...?

Jacqueline wonders about many things that could have not happened and how her life would be different. Mostly, she wonders about if the houses on her block hadn't been built, if her and Maria's parents hadn't moved to the same place, and if Maria and she hadn't become friends. She and Maria agree that they can't imagine it.

bushwick history lesson

Jacqueline's teacher tells the class about who first settled the neighborhood of Bushwick (once called Boswijck) and who migrated there at later times. The teacher instructs the students to write what the history lesson of their area means to them, and Jacqueline writes, "I didn't just appear one day" (298), saying that the story helped her realize that she was "a long time coming" (298).

how to listen #9

Jacqueline has a secret place she goes under her back porch, and when there she likes to write things she's heard.

the promise land

When Uncle Robert gets out of prison, the family learns he has become Muslim. He tells them stories about Muhammad, Mecca, and links the teachings to "the strength of all Black people" (300). He has become more calm and quiet, and the children are fascinated by his stories even though they are still Jehovah's Witnesses. When Uncle Robert prays, Jacqueline kneels with him, trying to imagine Mecca with him.

power to the people

Jacqueline watches Angela Davis on TV talking about the revolution happening. Maria and Jacqueline love Angela Davis, finding her beautiful and powerful, and they dream of joining the Black Panthers. They admire her willingness to die for what she believes in, though Jacqueline says she still doesn't understand why someone would have to do so.

say it loud

Jacqueline continues to learn about the revolution, especially the things the Black Panthers and others are doing for Black children. Jacqueline loves yelling "Say it loud: I'm Black and I'm proud" (304). She calls attention to the fact that even where she lives, there is a street that Black people can't cross for fear of getting beat up. An old woman, the last white person living on Jacqueline's block, talks to the children about how "All kinds of people" (305) used to live on the block, and Jacqueline thinks, "Except us" (305).

maybe mecca

A teenager on Jacqueline's block lost an arm fighting in the Vietnam War. Though he says it doesn't hurt, it is clear that he has suffered great trauma. Some evenings Jacqueline prays with Uncle Robert, and she imagines what Mecca might be, thinking it could be a happy place people can go in their mind.

the revolution

Uncle Robert's afro grows back, and he tells Jacqueline to look to the streets to learn about the revolution. Jacqueline briefly mentions that Shirley Chisholm, a Black woman, launches an inspirational presidential campaign. Jacqueline compares the revolution to going on a merry-go-round, and she ends with the statement, "My name is Jacqueline Woodson/ and I am ready for the ride" (309).

how to listen #10

Jacqueline writes down what she thinks she knows, and she listens.

a writer

Ms. Vivo, Jacqueline's fifth-grade teacher, tells the students she is a feminist and has them look up the word. After reading the beginning of a poem of Jacqueline's, she tells the young girl, "You're a writer" (311). Jacqueline had taken the first lines from Odella and then added many more lines. The poem is about Black people, and Ms. Vivo has her read the poem to the class. Jacqueline's voice shakes at first, but then grows stronger.

every wish, one dream

Every chance she gets, Jacqueline wishes to be a writer. She thinks of all the stories she has read, all the poems she has written so far, and all the memories she holds on to, believing they bring her closer to achieving her dream.

the earth from far away

On Saturday mornings, the children watch a TV show called "The Big Blue Marble" which starts with a camera showing the earth as a tiny dot and then zooms in on children in a certain place on Earth. Jacqueline thinks about how her life and world started small and now seems so big.

what i believe

Jacqueline lists things she believes in, including seeming opposites like "God and evolution," "the Bible and the Qur'an," "the city and the South" (317). As the poem goes on, the focus alternates from the personal to matters of African American rights.

each world

Jacqueline believes there are many worlds and that you can choose which one you live in, imagining yourself as many things such as a brilliant sister or a distant mother. She describes love wrapping around someone and how a person can contain multitudes of identities. She ends, "You decide/ what each world/ and each story/ and each ending/ will finally be" (320).


Author Jacqueline Woodson chose to write her memoir from the point of view of herself as a child, rather than, as is often done, her current point of view looking back on her life. Seeing her life through the eyes of a child expresses the vividness of her emotions during childhood, from confusion and sadness to curiosity and hope. This is especially important in Part V, when the reader gets a window on to revolutionary people and events, like the rise of Angela Davis and the Black Panthers, through Jacqueline's eyes. Though Jacqueline does not entirely understand the history and politics behind the movement, she is swept up in the excitement of seeing people who look like her standing up for their rights and identities in popular media. One touching moment comes in the poem titled "power to the people" (302-3), a title which references a revolutionary slogan that has been used in many contexts, including the Civil Rights Movement. The author writes, "We are not afraid to die, Maria and I shout, fists high,/ for what we believe in/ But both of us know—we'd rather keep believing/ and live" (303). While not completely naive, Jacqueline does not fully understand the importance of the protests occurring and the history behind them, but her desire for peace and acceptance gives her the strength to believe in the movement.

One of the most important plot points in all of Brown Girl Dreaming is the death of Daddy Gunnar. Though he was actually Jacqueline's grandfather, he was more like a father to her and her siblings, and he was one of the only characters who truly appreciated Jacqueline (for example, he does not criticize her for making up stories and he likes her off-key singing). While we have gotten glimpses at the grieving process earlier in the book through the deaths of Uncle Odell and Aunt Kay (and, to some extent, Grandpa Hope), this event is given more weight in Jacqueline's experience. Jacqueline is burdened by grief for a long period; the author writes that "After Daddy dies/ spring blurs into summer/ then winter comes on too cold and fast" (283). The progression of seasons shows that grieving is not a quick process, and the fact that the seasons are getting more cold and dreary matches the overall tone of despair. However, the author gives hope through a metaphor: Jacqueline learning double Dutch. The poem reads, "After Daddy dies/ I learn to jump double Dutch slowly...Counting/ Ten, twenty, thirty, forty deep into the winter until/ one afternoon/ gravity releases me and my feet fly free in the ropes/ fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety..." (284). Jacqueline getting stuck on the low numbers represents her being stuck in her grief and in her memories of the past. Therefore, when she is able one day to continue the numbers higher and higher, this shows that she is healing and ready to move on with her life.

Another impactful metaphor in Part V comes in the poem "fate & faith & reasons" (293-4). While Jacqueline and her mother fold laundry, Jacqueline thinks about how colors are supposed to be separated when doing laundry, just like people of different colors are separated in society. She also notices that when the colors are mixed accidentally, they affect one another irrevocably: "The pale pink towel, a memory/ of when it was washed with a red one" (293). Instead of seeing this as evidence that colors should be kept separate, Jacqueline comes to the conclusion that, "In time/ maybe/ everything will fade to gray" (293). She believes that people from different backgrounds and racial heritage can coexist, and that this will be especially possible in the future when more people can comfortably interact and inter-marry.

Throughout Brown Girl Dreaming there are quite a few series of poems linked together by their titles; for example, "halfway home #1," "halfway home #2," etc. Part V, as the last section of the book, contains the final installment of many of these series, and provides an appropriate time for analyzing their usage. The different series provide benchmarks to examine the way Jacqueline's life has changed and stayed the same as she grows. Some tie together moments thematically to show how Jacqueline's feelings have stayed the same across moments, such as the "halfway home" series tying together moments in which Jacqueline feels like she lacks a home in any particular place. Others show moments of change and transition, such as the "after greenville" series. These series are effective because they show the continuity in Jacqueline's life as she figures out who she is and where she belongs.

The final two poems of the book focus on apparent contradictions that can work together to make a complete, interesting person. Rather than feeling torn apart by a lack of home or difficulty understanding how pieces of her identity can coexist, Jacqueline states things like "I believe in the Bible and the Qur'an" (317) and "I believe in the city and the South" (317). These poems represent the climax of the story, in which Jacqueline figures out who she is, ending her internal conflict ever since her fraught and confusing early childhood. The final poem, "each world" (319-20), focuses on not only acknowledging the contradictions that exist inside of her, but empowering herself to make strong choices based on the varied influences in her life.