Brownies, By Zz Packer Essay

1323 words - 5 pages

In the short story “Brownies,” author ZZ Packer uses the narrator, Laurel, to explore the tensions that exist between belonging to a community and maintaining individuality. While away at camp with her brownie troop, she finds herself torn between achieving group inclusion and sustaining her own individualism. Although the events of the short story occur at Camp Crescendo, Packer is able to expand (and parallel) this struggle for identity beyond the camp’s walls and into the racially segregated society that both the girls and their families come from. Packer is exploring how an individual’s inherent need for group inclusion consequently fuels segregation and prejudice against those outside the group across various social and societal stratums.
Although unaware of the catalytic events that have occurred until much later in the story, Packer explicitly makes us aware from the first paragraph that Laurel and her troop not only share a cohesive group identity but that part of this unity is based around their obvious racial difference from the all-white group, Troop 909. The aggressive tone in this passage illustrates that there does not need to be any outright confrontation between the two groups; the conflict is already there as Troop 909 is “doomed from day one” (Packer, 185). Even before their arrival at camp, the group dynamics are inherently formed around race which subsequently leads to segregation, something that has only been reinforced throughout their lives in Atlanta’s suburbs. Because their total separation from the white community most likely stems from socioeconomic factors, it becomes clear that Laurel’s troop and community is on the “have not’s” side of the spectrum, fueling their prejudice and ignorance toward Troop 909.
Packer uses Laurel’s struggle to find her place within her troop to explore an individual’s inherent need for communal inclusion and identification. Although her shared race inherently secures her place in the group, she actively seeks further acceptance and affirmation from the other girls. Her longing for community results in her continued involvement with the group, as being outside the group implies an undesired sense of isolation. Laurel continuously strives to be a part of the community, even though she does not like its members and compares their caliber of friendship to being “bunched-up wads of tinfoil…or rusty iron nails you had to get tetanus for” instead of precious metals (190). The need to identify as part of the group causes her to passively dismiss not only the blatant rudeness towards her and other members but also their obvious character flaws. Yet it is in this respect that her less aggressive and kind temperament distinguishes her from the rest of the group, indirectly disrupting its cohesion. Although she realizes that “quiet people like [herself] were better off quiet alone,” the fear of being excluded will lead her to comply with group actions and thoughts that would likely not occur if she...

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