Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira
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— Identity or How “away” redefines “home” - Eilis has replaced Rose, in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

:: RT: Writing an article on "Brooklyn by Colm Toibin," Identity or How “away” redefines “home” - Eilis has replaced Rose, in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin | #Literature #Multiculturalism #Immigration #Marriage #GenderRoles #Sexuality #Love #Religion #Identity #HybridIdentity #Racism #StudyNotes #UniversityStudies

The book “Brooklyn” (2009) by Colm Toibin narrates the life of Eilis Lacey, a sensible and reticent young Irish woman living in rural Ireland in the 1950s, but also an immigrant in Brooklyn, a city that is an epitome of a better new world, full of opportunities for émigrés. As is custom of Toibin, his books persistently depict melancholy, grief, and loneliness (“The South” (1990), “The Heather Blazing” (1992), “The Story of the Night” (1996) “The Blackwater Lightship” (1999)). However, “Brooklyn” is more than mere despair when capturing the situation facing the main protagonist, Eilis.

The book “Brooklyn” is an impeccable piece of writing. The novel captures the themes of family, new beginnings, multiculturalism, immigration, economic depression, grief and loss, marriage, gender roles, sexuality, innocence/virginity, love, religion, relationships, identity, hybrid identity, personal growth, racism, sporting or leisure.

Readers can readily identify with Eilis through her experiences, especially if they have moved to live in a foreign place. Eilis “had presumed that she would live in the town [of Enniscorthy] all her life” (Toibin 29), but the opportunity knocks in the form of a sponsorship by 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 happy there and proud. She wondered if that could be true” (Toibin 25).

Although some critics may portray Eilis as a passive young woman, from beginning to end, I argue that through her huge decision to leave her town, she transforms from being an observer to an active recipient of life. The act of crossing the borders of Ireland into the unknown represents Eilis’ change of identity. Although she does not change from being anxious and reserved. “It made her feel strangely as though she were two people, one who had battled [...] and the other who was her mother’s daughter [...]” (Toibin 217-218).

She is homesick, which portrays her as someone who is trapped within the confining settings of Ireland; she only lives in Brooklyn physically but her soul is in Ireland (Toibin 59, 173, 72-73; Schwaninger 38).

Eilis feels lost in Brooklyn. Although the city is multicultural and has many other immigrants just like her, she feels the place is pathetic and has nothing for her. "Nothing here was part of her. It was false and empty" (Toibin 70). She is apprehensive about how people would judge her and thus self-reflects a lot to impress others. Consequently, a young American-Italian man, Tony Fiorello falls in love with her.

When Eilis receives news that her sister Rose has passed away, she makes plans to travel to Ireland, but before that, Tony convinces her to marry him, which they do in a secret civil ceremony. Interestingly, during her stay in Enniscorthy, another man named Jim Farell falls in love with her too. However, she no longer feels the attachment with Enniscorthy as captured by her bedroom that seems “empty of life, which almost frightened her in how little it meant to her” (Toibin 112-113). She thus travels back to Brooklyn.

“Home” is an internalized conception. Does she go back to Brooklyn because she felt it was her duty as a wife to Tony or because she feels she belongs there regardless a husband? It is debatable. “‘She has gone back to Brooklyn,’ her mother would say to Jim. [...] Eilis imagined the years ahead, when these words would come to mean less and less to the man who heard them and would come to mean more and more to herself" (Toibin 252).

I have developed two thesis statements for further perusal as follows. These claims do not necessarily reflect my stance on this issue.

“In this paper, I argue that 1) Eilis chooses to go back to America because of her desperation in a narrow-minded environment where divorce is almost impossible. While some critics may argue that emigration from Ireland was triggered by famine and economic climate, I argue that 2) emigration from Ireland is not a homogenous issue.”

Julia Schwaninger (51) defines Paddy’s paradox as the inconsistency in reality and expectations of immigrating to the US in order to argue that immigration experiences for Irish people differed by gender and from one person to the other.

“In this paper I argue that Eilis is confronted by a devastating choice between 1) duty and 2) one great love because a) she has to abide by a wife’s duty and return to Brooklyn to her husband as opposed to b) remaining in Ireland where she had longed to be for the longest time. While some critics may argue that Ireland has a history of exile immigrants, I argue that Irish people retain their national identity and pride because it is clear that Eilis longs to be home in Ireland regardless of the opportunities in America. By looking at Eilis decision to return to New York after her sister’s burial, I argue that this decision was made, not because she is passive, but out of commitment to her marriage which is important because Irish culture values family royalty.”

Marisol Morales Ladrón (181) defines emigration as a highly mystified phenomenon among the Irish in order to argue that Toibin’s portrayal of Eilis as a female immigrant seeks to deconstruct myths among Irish immigrants and the reasons for immigrating.

An article by Benjamin Madeira - Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira


Carregal-Romeros, José. “Colm Tóibín and Post-Nationalist Ireland: Redefining Family Through Alterity.” Estudios Irlandeses 7 (2012): 1-9. Web. March 2015. < >

Morales Ladrón, Marisol. “Demystifying Stereotypes of the Irish Migrant Young Woman in Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn.” Revista canaria de estudios ingleses, 68; 2014, pp. 173-184. Web. March 2015. < >

Schwaninger, Julia. “Analysing Colm Tóibín’s Novel Brooklyn and Selected Short Stories of Mothers and Sons for the Purposes of Teaching in the EFL Classroom.” 2011. Web. March 2015. <>

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


MP3, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin ::


PEN World Voices Festival 2014, May 4: Colm Tóibín ::

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Video: PEN World Voices Festival 2014, Colm Toibin, intended for nonprofit, educational use / study purposes only. Videoclip for study purposes only


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