Sarah Foust Vinson
Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
This essay considers how collective memory works to develop and sustain a group identity in Gloria Naylor's 1980 novel, The Women of Brewster Place. Using post-structural theorist Bronwyn Davies's collective biography project as a model through which to understand Naylor's work, it becomes clear how collective remembering in the novel prompts the women characters to become aware of the hegemonic forces shaping their lives.
As Naylor's characters voice the variable, otherwise-silenced stories of the African American women who reside in Brewster Place, Naylor emphasises the importance of the personal memories and stories of each resident, while at the same time illustrates the need for communal support and shared remembering in each woman’s life. Indeed, being part of a community that shares collective memories and histories can provide a nurturing, legitimating experience that fosters a sense of belonging, but it can also be limiting of an individual’s personal recollections that stand in opposition to or outside of the official collective memory.
Ultimately, it is the characters’ recognition of the collective nature of the women’s memories and dreams that creates the possibility of active resistance and supports them in their quest for enhanced agency within the broader society.