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Brown Girl Dreaming Book Analysis

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Brown Girl Dreaming follows the childhood of the author, Jacqueline Woodson, from her birth to around age ten. Jacqueline is born in Ohio, the youngest child of three, in 1963, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Jacqueline and her family are African-American. Her father, Jack, is from Ohio, and her Mama, Mary Ann, is from South Carolina. Prior to Jacqueline’s birth and the birth of her sister Odella, Mama lost her brother, Odell. Mama and Jack fight often, eventually causing Mama flee to the home of her parents, Georgiana and Gunnar, in Greenville, South Carolina with Jacqueline, Odella, and their older brother Hope

Eventually, however, Jack comes and begs for Mama’s forgiveness, and Mama and the children return to Ohio. After a second try, however, the couple fights again, and Mama leaves Jack for good, taking the children back with her to Greenville.

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Brown Girl Dreaming covers Woodson’s childhood, detailing her family history and her beginnings as a writer. Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 12, 1963, the youngest of three siblings. Her older brother Hope is named after her paternal grandmother, and her older sister Odella is named after her maternal uncle, Odell, who was killed in a car accident. Woodson herself is named Jacqueline as a compromise between her parents: Her father had wanted to name her Jack, after himself, but MaryAnn, her mother, had insisted on a more feminine name. The first section of the book covers Woodson’s infancy in Ohio, and the history of her paternal family there

Woodson’s paternal grandparents live in Nelsonville, a town near Columbus, and Woodson and her family often visit them there. In “the woodsons of ohio,” her father’s family traces its history back to Thomas Woodson of Chillicothe, “said to be / the first son / of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings” (8). They are a family of “doctors and lawyers and teachers / athletes and scholars and people in government.” Woodson’s mother is from Greenville, South Carolina, and she misses her own family there. She forms a bond with Hope, her mother-in-law, who also has family in Greenville. Woodson’s mother would prefer to live in the South near her own family, while Woodson’s father would prefer that his children be raised up North. This disagreement eventually leads to their separation and divorce. Woodson’s mother takes her children to Greenville permanently to live with their grandparents Georgiana and Gunnar, and Woodson’s father drops out of their life for many years. Woodson and her siblings learn to call Gunnar, their grandfather, “Daddy.” Woodson comes to love the fertile landscape of the South, and the sense of community in their neighborhood, Nicholtown, a Black suburb of Greenville. At the same time, the South is where she first begins to experience racial prejudice, and to become aware of the Black struggle for civil rights.

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On balance, as Woodson writes to make sense of her own life, we, in turn, find deeper meaning in our own. Brown Girl Dreaming provides readers a text worthy of close reading and rereading in a study of memoir, poetry, or as a primary source for interdisciplinary studies on the civil rights era. Woodson’s story is an impacting and welcome addition to young adult literature inviting us all “perchance to dream.”

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