Tracking Light in Brown Girl, Brown Stones

In Zora Neal Hurston’s essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression”, she claims that the most notable characteristic of African American expression is drama.[1]   She explains how the black artist’s interpretation of the English language “is in terms of pictures” and action, and while the “white man thinks in a written language…the Negro thinks in hieroglyphics.”[2]   This sense of theatrical, pictured expression will guide my analysis of Paule Marshall’s novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones; specifically, my inquisition on how the author uses light imagery to “picture” and to adorn the quest of selfhood and self-making of her main protagonist, Selina Boyce.
      This notion of adornment also stems from Hurston’s essay on the characteristics of African American aesthetic expression.   She claims that the African American’s “will to adorn” has “done wonders to the English language” and notes that “[the black artist’s] idea of ornament does not attempt to meet conventional standards, but it satisfies the soul of its creator.”[3]   In positing this notion of the “will to adorn” in Marshall’s novel, the theatricalized picture of Selina’s journey of self-making becomes a reflection of the author’s own self understanding and mode of consciousness.   Therefore, according to Hurston’s principles of black aesthetics, the light imagery used in the novel is inextricably linked to Marshall’s own unique black subjectivity.   In tracking the way light adorns Selina’s process of self discovery, readers will be exposed to Marshall’s own process of ‘satisfying her soul’ and staking her own claim as an American writer.
      In following Mae Gwendolyn Henderson’s interpretation of black female subjectivity in her essay ““Speaking in Tongues”: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition”, the mode of consciousness exposed in Brown Girl, Brownstones can be characterized, by what Henderson describes, as “interlocutory, or dialogic,… reflecting not only a relationship...