The issues of the past act as signs of guides for her own present direction heading into the future "Selina, standing shattered in the doorway, watched those hands, and the night at the factory rushed back, vivid, as though a year had not passed. That night was part of this cold windy day, just as this day had been contained in that night, and they would both reach with long arms into every day to come…" (Marshall 109). The product of a multicultural background, Selina must come to terms with her American, African-American and African-Caribbean heritage. While she is on her journey to do so, she also becomes aware that life itself is threatened by a too-heavy dependence on materialistic values over those necessary to nourish the human spirit.
The book itself is testament to unity and preserving cultural identity, because it employs the use of the African oral narrative tradition, one that has been used to maintain group identity, guide social action, encourage social interaction and to entertain. However, there are more universal issues that are covered despite the cultural and geographical focus. For example, part of Selina's struggle to forge her identity is the age old dilemma of either being oneself or conforming to the pressures of conventionality. Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and other writers black, white, or otherwise, have often focused on this universal dilemma of the individual versus society in their works, particularly Tar Baby and Giovanni's Room respectively where similarity to Brown Girl, Brownstones is regarded. Further, the struggles of forming an identity in the face of parental values and generation gaps is a universal dilemma in all cultures in all times and places. The issues and challenges may be different for a first generation American from Ba