Gloria Naylor’s The “Men of Brewster Place” is a profound work that
explores the other side of the gender issue. It is a continuation of
Naylor’s “The Women of Brewster Place’ and depicts the men who played
only minor roles in that book.
The men of Brewster Place are presented as rational Black men who
are able to think for themselves and who realize that they have
problems they must solve. Naylor’s positive depiction shows them as men
struggling to correct their faults, or as individuals trying to make
sense of their lives.
The book is divided into 10 chapters that start with “Dusk” and end
with “Dawn.” It discusses the lives of seven characters known as the
sons of Brewster Place — Ben, Brother Jerome, Basil, Eugene, Moreland
T. Woods, C.C. Baker, and Abshu.
Naylor’s methodology is quite clever. Although Ben died in “The
Women of Brewster Place,” the “Author’s Notes” in this sequel states
that Naylor “takes her poetic license to resurrect [Ben’s] spirit and
voice to narrate major portions of [the] novel.” Ben tells the story of
how he ended up in the place called Brewster. It is the story of a
caring father and a loving husband who had a wonderful daughter but was
plagued with a domineering wife. It is the story of a man who is unable
to cope and becomes a drunkard.
All of these men have unique situations that tie them to Brewster
Place. The gifted piano player, Brother Jerome, captures the plight of
all Black men of Brewster Place through his playing of the blues.
Although he is labeled a “retarded child,” he is the silent, brilliant
force that is able to put things together through his music.
Basil tries to recapture all that he has missed in life by
attempting to be a father to two boys whom he adopts. However, he is
left in a state of confusion when things do not turn out the way that
he had wished.
Eugene is upset and confused and has forsaken his family because he
has explored another side of himself that he still does not understand.
The minister, Moreland T. Woods, succeeds at getting his new church
and a political office. But eventually, he is viewed as a “sell-out.”
Money, power, and respect are three ingredients that C.C. Baker’s father lacks. So C.C. seeks them in the streets.
Cliff Jackson, who changed his name to Abshu, is on a mission to
either assassinate Pastor Woods or to see that he loses his political
Finally, the barbershop is the central metaphor that serves as a
house of refuge, a place where debate and understanding take place. The
barbershop is the place where all of the Black men come to be
themselves and to discuss their lives and society. It is at the
barbershop that they sing “the [B]lack man’s blues.” They discuss their
present conditions, vent their frustrations, and dream about more
The barbershop is also the place where the character Greasy ends
his life. Greasy’s character serves as an illustration that brotherhood
represents more than the spurious masks Black men wear or the phony
words that they say to each other. Unlike the other men, Greasy openly
admits to his faults: “I’m a man. And I’m trying.”
It is through Greasy’s death that the Black men notice that, they
are all the same, that their problems are also the same ones that
Greasy once fought on a daily basis. They are all men who are hurting,
struggling, coping, and trying to make the best out of what is left of
their lives. Naylor uses these characters as an attempt to touch upon
all issues that Black men face.
It is refreshing to see someone address the Black male character
and explore him realistically. Certainly, this work should be an
inspiration to all who read it, and it should also encourage other
writers to explore Black male characters from similar vantage points.
–DR. JACKIE THOMAS
American Council of Education Fellow, Chair Department of English at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
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