Identityor How “away” redefines “home” – Eilis has replaced Rose,inBrooklyn by Colm Toibin

Thebook “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin narrates the life of Ellis Lacey,a reticent and sensible young Irish woman living in rural Ireland inthe 1950s, but also an immigrant in Brooklyn, an epitome of abetternew world, full of opportunities forémigrés. As is custom ofToibin, his bookspersistently depictmelancholy, grief, andloneliness. However, Brooklyn is more than mere despair whencapturing the situation facing the main protagonist, Eilis.The bookisan impeccable piece of writing, in my view.The novel captures thethemes of family, new beginnings, multiculturalism, immigration,economic depression, grief and loss, marriage, gender roles,sexuality, innocence/virginity, love, religion, relationships,identity, personal growth, racism, sporting or leisure.

Readerscan readily identify with Eilis through her experiences, especiallyif they have moved to live in a foreign place.Eilis “had presumedthat she would live in the town [of Enniscorthy] all her life”(Toibin 29), but the opportunity knocks in the form of a sponsorshipby Father Flood to move to the US, and she goes on to reflect that“no one who went to America missed home. Instead they were happythere and proud. She wondered if that could be true”(Toibin 25).

Althoughsome critics may portray Eilis as a submissive young woman, frombeginning to end, I argue that through herhuge decision to leave hertown, she transforms from being an observer, passive recipient oflife to an active protagonist.The act of crossing the bordersofIreland into the unknown represents Eilis’ change ofidentity.However, she does not change from being anxious, reserved,and a hard-working person. She is homesick, which portrays her assomeone whois trapped within the confining settings of Ireland sheonly lives in Brooklyn physically but her soul is in Ireland as sheis always homesick (Toibin 172 Schwaninger 35).

Eilisfeels lost in Brooklyn. Although the city is multicultural and hasmany other immigrants just like her, she feelsthe place is patheticand has nothing for her. &quotNothing here was part of her. It wasfalse and empty&quot (Toibin 70). She is anxious and apprehensiveabout how people would judge her and thus self-reflects a lot toimpress others. She obeys the landlady and grows more accommodatingwith time. Consequently, a young American-Italian man, Tony Fiorellofalls in love with her.

WhenEllis receives news that her sister Rose has passed away, she makesplans to travelto Ireland, but beforethat, Tony convinces her tomarry him, which they do in a secret civil ceremony. Interestingly,during her stay in Enniscorthy, another man named Jim Farell falls inlove with her. However, she no longer feels the attachment withEnniscorthyascaptured by her empty bedroom that seems “empty oflife, which almost frightened her in how little it meant to her”(Toibin 112-113). She thus travels back to Brooklyn. Is it becauseshe felt it was her duty as a wife to Tony or because she feels shebelongs there regardless a husband. It is debatable.

Basedon the short analysis above, I have developed two thesis statementsfor further perusal as follows:

“Inthis paper, I argue that Eilis chooses to go back to an unfamiliarworld in America because of her desperation in a narrow-mindedenvironment where divorce is almost impossible. While critics arguethat that emigration from Ireland was triggered by famine andeconomic climate then, I argue that emigration from Ireland is not ahomogenous issue, because the case of Eilis demonstrates that herreasons and those her brothers were very different. By looking at herrelationship with Jim, Tony, and her family, I argue that the reasonsfor immigration for men and women differ which is important becauseit highlights the place of women in the Irish society and in globalimmigration debates. The text by Schwaninger (51) defines Paddy’sparadox as the inconsistency in reality and expectations ofimmigrating to the US in order to argue that immigration experiencesfor Irish people differed by gender and from one person to the other.

“Inthis paper I argue that Eilis is confronted by a devastating choicebetween duty and one great love because she has to abide by a wife’sduty and return to Brooklyn to her husband as opposed to remaining inIreland where she had longed to be for the longest time. While somecritics may argue that Ireland has a history of exile immigrants, Iargue that Irish people retain their national identity and pridebecause in Eilis, it is clear that she longs to be home in Irelanddespite the regardless of the opportunities in American. By lookingat Eilis decision to return to New York after her sister’s burial,I argue that this decision was made out of commitment to her marriagewhich is importantbecauseIrish culture values family royalty.” Thetext by Ladron (181) defines emigration as a highly mystifiedphenomenon among the Irish in order to argue that Toibin’sportrayal of Eilis as a female immigrant seeks to deconstruct mythsamong Irish immigrants and the reasons for immigrating.


Carregal-Romeros,Jose. “Colm Tóibín and Post-Nationalist Ireland: RedefiningFamily Through

Alterity.”EstudiosIrlandeses7(2012): 1-9. Web.

Ladron,Marisol. “DemystifyingStereotypes of the Irish Migrant Young Woman in Colm

Tóibín’sBrooklyn.”RevistaCanariade EstudiosIngleses,68 2014, pp. 173-184. Web.

Schwaninger,Julia. “Analysing Colm Tóibín’s Novel Brooklyn and SelectedShort Stories of

Mothersand Sons for the Purposes of Teaching in the EFL Classroom.” 2011.Web. 27thMarch 2015. &lthttp://othes.univie.ac.at/16086/1/2011-09-20_0705540.pdf&gt

Tóibín,Colm. Brooklyn. New York: Simon and Schuster. 2009. Print.