Study Guide

Brooklyn: A Novel Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Colm Tóibín

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

She had a sense too [...] that, while the boys and girls from the town who had gone to England did ordinary work for ordinary money, people who went to America could become rich. (1.188)

Do you think this is accurate, or is Eilis just fooling herself? It certainly seems like it could be true, as Eilis does indeed quickly move up the ranks of her job after she moves to America. On the other hand, this might just be great marketing—after all, the best way to convince new people to come to your country is to make their future there sound amazing.

Even the notepaper itself seemed [...] more promising than anything of its kinds she had seen before. (1.196)

Even American paper seems to be more optimistic than Irish paper. Weird. If nothing else, this shows how excited Eilis is becoming about the prospect of starting a new life in America.

Her mind moved [...] towards the thought that she was going to lose this world for ever [...] that the rest of her life would be a struggle with the unfamiliar. (1.221)

While the thought of starting over in America is exhilarating, it also forces Eilis to say goodbye to her future in Ireland. She had always just assumed that she would grow up and live a life not unlike her mother's, staying in the same town, and seeing the same people. Suddenly, however, that future isn't quite so guaranteed.

"A lot of them started like you, on the shop floor. And they did night classes and studied and now they're in the office." (2.25)

Eilis hits the ground running as soon as she reaches Brooklyn. She's always wanted to be an accountant, but now she finally has the resources to make that dream become a reality. Not the most exciting dream, sure, but we'll take it.

She realized that, unless she wanted to lose her job, she would have to make a decision to lift herself out of whatever it was that was affecting her. (2.123)

This is an important moment for Eilis. Although she had been working towards her dreams prior to this, she's remained in a passive role because she's not confident in herself. Now, however, she realizes that she better start swimming or she'll start sinking. So paddle away, Eilis—paddle away.

He talked big, asking them all the time to imagine that they were the president of a large corporation, larger than that owned by Henry Ford. (2.68)

Mr. Rosenblum, Eilis' law teacher, makes Eilis dream bigger than she ever has before. Although we're not sure if she'll ever actually build a corporation that rivals those of the big boys, this mental exercise shows Eilis that there are no limits to her dreams except the ones she places on herself.

And yet she knew that in his mind Tony was moving faster than she was, and she knew that she would have to slow him down. (3.466)

The entrance of Tony "The Italian Stallion" throws all of Eilis' plans out of whack. This situation becomes even more complicated after Tony makes it clear that he's head-over-heels for her. Although Eilis digs the kid, she's not quite ready to go that far.

His saying that he loved her and his expecting a reply frightened her, made her feel that she would have to accept that this was the only life she was going to have. (3.467)

Every time Eilis seems to have a handle on her life, something pops up and throws a wrench into her plans. For example, Eilis was having a great time casually dating Tony, but then he just has to muck things up by making it more serious. This forces Eilis to make a big decision—if she would rather have a future with Tony, or without him.

She knew this was his way not only of asking her to marry him but of suggesting that marriage had been already tacitly agreed between them. (3.668)

Once again, Tony is trying really hard to make sure that he and Eilis have a future together, which could either be adorable or annoying depending on your perspective. Still, Eilis eventually agrees to marry him, which means that everything is all good, right? Right?

She had never mentioned to Tony that she would like to keep working, even if just part time. (4.107)

This is our first glimpse that Eilis and Tony's future together is going to be even more complicated than their past. Just remember this, Eilis—in Italian-American families, the ladies always run the show.