1. How would you describe Eilis' family in terms of their
feelings for each other and the ways they communicate?
2. Miss Kelly notes disapprovingly to Eilis that some people
come into her shop on a Sunday to buy things, such as soap or
toothpaste, that they should have bought during the week. Unspoken,
because Miss Kelly and Eilis both understand it, is the Catholic
belief that only necessary foods should be bought on Sunday. The
Catholicism of all the main characters in the book is so taken for
granted that very little is made of it, at least overtly. And yet
it determines the characters' most central values and beliefs. Give
some examples of this.
3. Particularly at the beginning of the novel, some crucial
scenes are not written. We never see the scene, for example, where
Eilis and her family decide that she will go to America. We never
see her farewell to her mother, except in a sentence recalled
later. Why would Colm Toibin omit these scenes? Do these exclusions
work for you? Do they suit - and reflect - the Lacey family, or the
society as a whole?
4. The two societies depicted in the novel, mid-century Brooklyn
and Enniscorthy, are quite stratified as to class. What are some
examples of this? How does Eilis react to the class divisions?
5. Miss Fortini tells Eilis that Broadway is changing and
Bartocci's, the store they work for, must change with it. Post-war
America was indeed a time of great social ferment. What are some of
the ways the society is evolving, as we encounter them through
6. During a clamorous sale at Bartocci's, Eilis remembers a
scene from home: "she thought in a flash of an early evening in
October walking with her mother down by the prom in Enniscorthy,
the Slaney River glassy and full, and the smell of leaves burning
from somewhere close by, and the daylight going slowly and gently."
Discuss this as a piece of descriptive writing, and its function in
this particular scene. How would you describe Toibin's chosen style
for this book and how it reflects the subject matter?
7. Toibin's last book, The Master, centred on
the novelist Henry James. In Brooklyn, he has
chosen a very different central character, a young woman with a
gift for bookkeeping and very little life experience. What are some
of the techniques he uses to authentically portray this female
8. Brooklyn naturally strikes Eilis as very different from
Enniscorthy. But there is much continuity, as well as
discontinuity, between the two places. Discuss some of the
similarities (which Eilis usually takes for granted) and
differences she finds.
9. What do you make of the scene where Miss Fiorito helps Eilis
choose a bathing suit? How does it contribute to the novel as a
10. Most good novels contain a mixture of plot, character
portrayal and social observation. Some are largely plot-driven,
others focus predominantly on the characters or the society in
general. In which category does Brooklyn fall?
11. By far the largest question in the book is the motivation of
Eilis. Describe her character, and her occasional ambivalence. Why
do you think, after having accepted Tony's proposal, she seems to
change her allegiance with relative speed once she arrives in
Ireland? Does the ease with which she gets involved with Jim
surprise you? What do you think Toibin is saying about the conflict
between duty and the human heart?
12. At the start of the book, Rose is charismatic, while Eilis
is less so. But once Eilis leaves for America, she begins to act
more like her sister, becoming more assertive and independent. Once
she returns to Ireland after Rose's death, her mother wants her to
wear Rose's clothing, to live with her as Rose did. Eilis even
begins to work for Rose's old company. There are continuing
references to reality, shadows and ghosts in the novel, and Eilis
feels that she is becoming Rose's ghost. Discuss the relationship
between the sisters, Mrs. Lacey's expectations about Eilis, and
Eilis' reaction to those expectations.
13. Eilis' mother is enigmatic in some ways. How does she strike
you in the first part of the book, before Eilis leaves? Does she
show a different side of herself, after Eilis returns to Ireland?
How much do you think she knows about Eilis and Tony? How do you
interpret her response to Eilis's final decision?
14. Even before the reader discovers that Miss Kelly and Mrs.
Kehoe are related, it's noticeable that they have some traits in
common. What are they? Could they possibly derive from something
larger than the family connection?
15. Who is a better match for Eilis, Tony or Jim? Why?
16. What do you think would have happened if Miss Kelly had
never summoned Eilis to her apartment? Re-imagine another ending
for the novel.