Study Guide

Brooklyn: A Novel Coming of Age

By Colm Tóibín

Coming of Age

Elias was proud of her sister, of how much care she took with her appearance and how much care she put into whom she mixed with in the town and the golf club. (1.87)

Rose is everything Eilis wants to be when she grows up. She's classy and beautiful. She's a charming social butterfly. And she can hit golf balls harder than Ronda Rousey throws punches. While it's pretty awesome to have a big sis like this, it also sets an awfully high standard to live up to.

Eilis felt like a child when the doctor would come to the house, her mother listening with cowed respect. (1.186)

Although Eilis is almost an adult, her mother's overbearing nature makes her feel more like a kid. Call us crazy, fellow Shmoop-meisters, but it sounds like we have all of the ingredients for a classic coming-of-age story.

As she turned and looked at her sister, Eilis wanted to suggest that they change places, that Rose [...] would be happier going to America. (1.223)

Eilis' trip to America is the first thing that she's ever done by herself, so it's understandable that she's more nervous than a teenage girl at a 1D meet-and-greet.

She found herself thanking him in a tone that Rose might have used [...] a tone used by a woman in full possession of herself. (1.231)

Now that's how you do it, girl. Although she hasn't even begun her journey to America, Eilis is already following her sister's example and acting like a real lady. To be honest, it's probably a lot easier for her to do so when she's around people who don't know her.

Georgina, she thought, would know what to do, as would Rose or her mother [...] But she had no idea what to do. (1.330)

Although she's made strides, Eilis is still a frightened little girl at heart. She still looks at adults and assumes that they know everything, which is an illusion that typically gets shattered as soon as you become one.

When Eilis looked at herself in the mirror she was surprised. She seemed older and, she thought, almost good-looking. (1.392)

Didn't take long, huh? Once she leaves home, Eilis has no choice but to adapt to adulthood, and we'd say that she passes this test with flying colors. What's more, she can feel that something has changed, even if she doesn't entirely understand what.

Instead, she determined that she would buy something, even just new shoes, which would make her feel more like the girls she had seen dancing. (3.12)

Although Eilis feels more adult after moving to America, it takes her some time to grow into the glamorous lady she secretly wants to be. This is mostly a confidence issue. Regardless, this passage shows that she's finally taking a step in the right direction.

"You'll have to shave down here," she said. "Otherwise, you'll spend your time on the beach pulling the elastic down." (3.572)

Nothing says "coming of age story" quite like some good old-fashioned feminine shaving advice, eh? This quote shows Eilis realizing that she's a sexual being… which is an important part of any person's growth into adulthood.

She noticed a woman studying her and she realized with amusement [...] that she must look glamorous in these streets. (4.33)

Eilis doesn't realize how much she's grown until she returns to her childhood home of Ireland. There, she's reminded of how much she's grown in relation to the unchanging small town of her youth and can't help but feel a tinge of pride.

"You seem more grown up and serious. And in your American clothes you look different. You have an air about you." (4.185)

You know what they say kids: American women gonna mess with your mind. Lenny Kravitz/Guess Who lyrics aside, this is another reminder of how much Eilis has grown over the past few years, whether she realizes it or not. Aw, jeez—our little Eily is all grown up and now we have all the feels.