Trudier Harris in her essay "No Outlet for the Blues: Silla Boyce’s Plight in Brown Girl, Brownstones" highlights the opposing ideals of Selina's mother and father, and the effect of their ideas on their daughter Selina. Harris writes: "Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones presents a clash of cultures not only for the young protagonist Selina Boyce, who is torn between her father's love for Barbados and her mother's desire to succeed to the American Dream, but also for Silla Boyce, who has similar conflicts. This strong, bitter, frustrated, disappointed, loving, vindictive woman, who keeps striving in the face of all disappointments, is perhaps one of the most complex black women characters in contemporary American literature". By the end of the novel, however, the author concludes that Silla is unable to change sufficiently to escape her blues: “She has grown in her knowledge of herself and of the actions of the people with whom she identifies, but she has not grown to the point of accepting the changes which should be dictated by such knowledge. She continues to give up something of her humanity by her refusal to change, and that perfect control of one's destiny, that inability to give oneself up to the release of music or of love, is what insures that her state of the blues will never find an outlet".
The tension between the themes of individualism and ethnicity are explored in Martin Japtok's essay "Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones: Reconciling Ethnicity and Individualism", which concludes: "The simultaneous assertion of ethnicity and individualism must thus be accomplished through a constructionist conceptualization of ethnicity that allows one to see ethnic solidarity as an original response to an Old World environment that still has validity in the New World, though maybe not the same urgency. […] Selina accepts ethnic communalism while pursuing an individualist agenda, creating a new conceptualization of ethnicity in the process".
Gavin Jones begins his essay "'The Sea Ain’ Got No Back Door': The Problems of Black Consciousness in Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones" by quoting Marshall saying that unlike Ralph Ellison’s protagonist in Invisible Man, her own mother and friends "'suffered a triple invisibility, being black, female, and foreigners'". The essay goes on to explore this complex triple-identity. Jones concludes: "Marshall’s novel is a radical expression of how the black self, when it exists at the intersections of ethnicity, nationhood, and gender, has its wholeness challenged by alternative and frequently conflicting definitions. Just as the sea in Brown Girl contains contradictory multitudes—it is the sea of female creativity, diasporic consciousness, and African history, yet also the sea of colonial exploitation, industrial decay, and obliteration of the black past—Marshall’s novel as a whole proposes a sense of selfhood which, like a prism, contains many faces, each one refracting at an acute angle of difference".