The story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer could be looked at as a work of literature from certain views, but in the opinion of Prose, the author of “ I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read,” I do not believe that this story would be looked at as a work of literature. This story does not seem very “uplifting” as Prose would want it to be for a high school reader. Although it is a very interesting story and it holds many important messages about our society and culture, it does not hold up to Prose’s standards as a work of literature.
Prose believes that we “have rushed to sacrifice complexity for diversity.” (Prose, 76) This is exactly why I do not think that Prose would choose this story as a something she would want students to read. “The reader is being squandered on regimens of trash and semi-trash, taught for reasons that have nothing to do with how well the book is written.” (Prose, 76) Prose often talks about how stories that are chosen for our society’s high school curriculum are not complicated enough. The stories read by students are easy to read, and demand very little thought from the reader. Prose uses words such as transformative, complex, powerful, and profound for the books she believes should be used. These words do not describe the story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer.
Although there are many accurate similes and decently used language in the story “Brownies,” the overall point of the story seems very simple for a high school student to pick up on. I do not think it would engender a feeling of deep thought for students, as Prose would want. The story “Brownies” seems like it would be easy to analyze. It seems like more of the type of story that would evoke more of a response, which in my opinion would not be greatly valued by Prose. She seems like she would be more interested in having a high school student have to work to analyze a story, than respond about how they felt about a certain piece of writing.
Racism is a strong message in the story “Brownies.” There are two troops of brownies camping in the same area. One of the troops is black girls, and the other is all white girls. Although these troops see each other, they never have any scheduled interactions. The only time the two troops really cross each other is going in and out of the bathroom. The most popular girl in the black troop decides that their troop should “kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.” (Packer, 92) The most popular girl says that one of the white girls called one of the black girls a nigger. From this point on they black Brownie troop constantly tries to find ways in which they can get their revenge on the white troop. They finally get the opportunity in the bathroom, when they realize that the troop of white brownies were “retarded.”
The story is a very clear-cut story. Although there may be some small themes and statements that could be looked at as hidden meanings, the story is far from being an uplifting and life changing story. Rather this story might help students to see from a different point of view than their own.
(My high school curriculum)
Although you can look at some aspects of this story as a work of literature, I believe that to be best put to use, it should be used as a cultural reference of our society’s historical past. This story by no means could be used to sharpen a student’s vocabulary, or to make a student think differently about writing. To be well used this story could be looked at only through points of culture.
If I was in charge of teaching this story to high school students I think that I would probably focus on the differences in which the story portrays the two troops of Brownies. There are many examples in the story, of how the mother of one of the black troopers is constantly getting depressed and talking about it with the whole brownie troop. On the other hand, after the two troops meet in the bathroom to fight, and the two troop leaders talk you can see the difference in white culture and black culture in our past.
The black troop leader gets very upset with the troop and clearly shows her anger, while the white troop leader has a perfect smile throughout the whole conversation. Another clear difference that is significant in learning our society’s past is the way in which the white troop leaders is takes no real responsibility and puts it all in the faults of the black girls. The white troop leader says, “ ‘See. It could have happened. I’m not calling your girls fibbers or anything. It could have happened, see. Our girls are not retarded. They are delayed learners.’ She said this in a very syrupy instructional voice, as though our troop might be delayed learners as well.” (Packer, 99) Although the white woman takes a very slight amount of responsibility for the incident, she blames it all on the girls’ illnesses.
The white troop leader is greatly looking down on the black troop throughout the whole conservation. She basically assumes that the black whole incident was cause singularly by the black Brownie troop. This is one very good example of how a text such as this can be useful in high school classroom.
Rather than to have the student read about segregation and what life was like in the past through a textbook, a class can read a story such as this one. This will help students to get more of a real idea of what it would have been like to be black and the kind of discrimination in which blacks were faced with. It would be very hard to send a strong message of our society’s past problems without including stories such as this in our schools curriculum.
Although I do believe that it is important for students to read and struggle with complex literature in high school English classes, I do not believe that stories such as “Brownies” should be completely cut out of the curriculum. I think that this story serves a valuable cultural and historical purpose. These stories should be read by high school students because they are often the type of reading which students enjoy the most and will often motivate students to read more.