The name of the housing development in which the novel is set. Although Brewster Place is a physical structure, it is personified and endowed with a spirit that brings it to life. Brewster Place is at once a warm, loving community and a desolate and blighted neighborhood on the verge of collapsing.
The most important character in the novel. Mattie moves to Brewster Place late in life, after her son abandons her and forces her to lose her home. Mattie quickly becomes a surrogate mother to several of the women in the housing complex, offering love and support to women who, like her, have only one another to rely on.
Etta Mae Johnson
Mattie’s childhood friend and a resident of Brewster Place. Etta has spent her life bouncing from one city and man to the next, constantly in search of the fulfillment of some unnamed desire. Etta moves into Brewster Place late in life. When she arrives, she feels that her spirit has broken. Eventually, she comes to understand the value of her relationship with Mattie.
One of the six women portrayed in the novel. Kiswana, whose real name is Melanie, was born and raised in an affluent black suburb, Linden Hills. Kiswana, however, drops out of college, changes her name, and moves into Brewster Place in order to fight for the cultural and class revolution she so ardently believes in. Kiswana is young and naïve but full of optimism and ideals.
The woman who provides Mattie and her son with a home. Eva has a brief but important role in the novel. Her act of kindness provides Mattie with a home in which to raise her child. In addition, Eva’s keen insight into Mattie’s relationship with her son foreshadows the problems Mattie will have with him as an adult.
Mattie’s only son. Basil is the center of Mattie’s life from the moment of his birth and grows up under her watchful and loving eye. He is unable to accept any responsibility for his actions, and, as an adult, he kills a man in a fight. While out on bail, he selfishly decides to flee and forfeit his mother’s house rather than risk even the slim chance of going to jail.
Mattie’s one-time lover and Basil’s father. Butch lives his life only for the moment. He moves from one woman to the next, always leaving before any problems or trouble can arise. He indirectly passes his life philosophy on to Basil.
One of the women of Brewster Place. Cora, from a young girl, is obsessed with new baby dolls, demanding a new one every Christmas of her childhood. She grows up to have a number of different children by different men and is unable to care for any of them.
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One half of the lesbian couple portrayed in “The Two.” Lorraine is skinny, light-skinned, and sensitive. She is overly concerned with the way people treat and judge her for her sexuality. She tries to fit in with the other women of Brewster Place but is rejected. She eventually finds comfort in Ben, whom she murders after being gang raped in an alley.
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One half of the lesbian couple portrayed in “The Two.” Theresa is the opposite of her partner, Lorraine. She is shorter, darker, and more attractive. Theresa is a strong-willed, commanding woman who tries not to care what anyone says about her, but she is obviously disturbed by the prejudice she and Lorraine encounter.
The oldest resident of Brewster Place and a drunk. Ben is the first African-American to move into Brewster Place. He arrives from the South after his wife and daughter abandon him. He is tormented by his memories and is constantly seeking solace in alcohol. Ben becomes a brief father figure for Lorraine, and reveals the depths of his compassion and emotion. He is killed by Lorraine.
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C. C. Baker
The leader of a group of boys who do drugs and rob people. C. C. is a young African-American male who terrorizes his community with drugs and violence. He is the primary figure responsible for Lorraine’s rape. He takes out on her, and the other residents of Brewster Place, his frustrated desires.
One of the women of Brewster Place. Lucielia is Eva’s granddaughter. She appears again in the novel as a young woman with a daughter, Serena, and a worthless boyfriend, Eugene, whom she loves desperately despite his shortcomings. Lucielia is heartbroken and devastated after Serena dies.
Lucielia’s boyfriend and the father of her daughter, Serena. Eugene, like many of the other men in the novel, is irresponsible and too self-absorbed to be concerned with the consequences of his actions. While fighting with Lucielia over his decision to leave her and Serena, Serena accidentally kills herself.
A resident of Brewster Place. Sophie is responsible for leading the campaign against Lorraine and Theresa. She is petty and vindictive, and her attacks on Lorraine are rooted in her own insecurities.
Kiswana Browne’s mother. Ms. Browne is a prosperous, middle-aged black woman who lives in affluent Linden Hills. Despite her daughter’s claim that she is divorced from the black community, Ms. Browne reveals herself to be a thoughtful and proud woman who wants only what’s best for her daughter.