Study Guide

Brooklyn: A Novel Visions of Brooklyn

By Colm Tóibín

Visions of Brooklyn

Father Flood was tall; his accent was a mixture of Irish and American. (1.164)

Father Flood straddles the line between America and Ireland: he might be a good old Irish boy at heart, but he has a panache and take-no-prisoners attitude that could only be born in Brooklyn.

"Parts of Brooklyn," Father Flood replied, "are just like Ireland. They're full of Irish." (1.181)

Although Brooklyn is on the other side of the globe, there are enough Irish immigrants in the borough to foster a thriving expatriate community. This ends up helping Eilis a lot.

America might be further away and so utterly foreign in its systems and its manners, yet it had an almost compensating glamour attached to it. (1.226)

For a small town girl like Eilis, Brooklyn is the most amazing and glamorous city in the world. It's like London on steroids; like Dublin with Botox. It might be a little intimidating (okay, very intimidating) but Eilis is too excited to worry about her fears and hesitations.

She liked the morning air and the quietness of these few leafy streets, streets that had shops only on the corners, streets where people lived. (2.20)

Although this might not be the typical conception of Brooklyn, much of the borough is just like this—quiet, quaint neighborhoods with beautiful, tree-lined streets. Unlike Manhattan—which is all hustle and bustle—Brooklyn has a few spots where Eilis can just chill.

When she arrived at Fulton Street, there would be so many people crowding to cross the street [...] that on the first morning she thought a fight had broken out. (2.20)

Of course, there are some parts of Brooklyn that are busier than a Walmart on Black Friday. While this intense activity frightens Eilis at first, it also energizes her, giving her a bit of that New York energy that makes the city so unique: concrete jungle where dreams are made of. And if you're not singing that Alicia Keys/Jay-Z song right now, then something must be wrong with you.

"Brooklyn changes every day [...] New people arrive and they could be Jewish or Irish or Polish or even coloured [...] We treat everyone the same." (2.22)

Throughout its history, New York City has been defined—and built—by immigrants and other hard-working people fighting to make better lives. Though the particulars of their demographics might change over time, this hard-working community spirit lives on.

"It's a funny place, Brooklyn," Father Flood said. "As long as the guy in charge is not Norwegian—and in a college that's unlikely—then I can pull strings most places." (2.137)

You heard it first here, folks—Norwegians are the strictest schoolmasters on the planet. Jokes (and outdated ethnic stereotypes) aside, this quote shows us the incredible diversity that defines Brooklyn. After all, he follows this up by praising Jewish people because they seem to love priests. It sometimes sounds like a silly "walks into a bar" joke, but it's really pretty cool.

As soon as Eilis returned to her classes at Brooklyn College the baseball frenzy became worse. (3.644)

Eilis' least favorite part of living in Brooklyn is how much everyone loves baseball. We feel her on that one. Still, she should thank her lucky stars that fantasy sports didn't exist at the time. We shudder at the thought.

She ordered a beer too, her first ever, and tried to run the mustard and ketchup along the hot dog with the same flourish as Tony and Frank. (3.663)

Okay, now we feel like lighting fireworks and listening to Toby Keith because that is the most American thing we've ever heard. Although she's still a small town Irish lass at heart, Eilis' inner Brooklynite is starting to rear its hot dog-loving head.

No American man would be seen on a beach in anything like that, she thought. Nor would two men in Coney Island move as unself-consciously as these two did. (4.135)

After returning home after Rose's death, Eilis is reminded of the many differences between Brooklyn and Ireland. Although she's still charmed by many aspects of her home-country—as she is here—she ultimately decides that Brooklyn is the place where she wants to be. Huzzah—free slices of pizza for everyone!

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