‘Kiswana Browne’ by Gloria Naylor

Naylor, Gloria 1982

Kiswana Browne by Gloria Naylor, 1982

The magic trick:

Shifting the point of view slyly to showcase the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship through the prism of race, class and the generation gap

Though probably better known as part of the novel, The Women Of Brewster Place, “Kiswana Browne” functions just fine as a self-contained short story. Naylor is able to examine issues of race, class, gender and age all at once.

We start by seeing the world through Kiswana’s point of view. Things shift when Kiswana’s mother arrives. But cleverly, it’s never a straight-up change to the mother’s point of view. Instead we see Kiswana’s world as how she assumes her mother is judging her. It’s a kind of double lens, providing a more complex, nuanced look at their relationship and how each defines identity. And that’s quite a trick on Naylor’s part.

The selection:

When she heard the first two short raps on the door, her eyes took a final flight over the small apartment, desperately seeking out any slight misdemeanor that might have to be defended. Well, there was nothing she could do about the crack in the wall over the table. She had been after the landlord to fix it for two months now. And there had been no time to sweep the rug, and everyone knew that off-gray always looked dirtier than it really was. And it was just too damn bad about the kitchen. How was she expected to be out job-hunting every day and still have time to keep a kitchen that looked like her mother’s, who didn’t even work and still had someone come in twice a month for general cleaning. And besides . . .

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