Change and Reform: Eilis’ Journey to Independence in Brooklyn

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Acknowledgements:I have received assistance from my classmates (formulation of ideas during discussion), Mrs. Ellis (Providing thought-provoking questions, and aiding me outside of class), Colm Toibin (Provided text to be analyzed), Neale Donald Walsch (Author who provided me with the summarizing quote), and my father (refinement of my voice). Recognizing this assistance, I affirm that this piece is my own work, and I am entirely responsible for its content. Ben Berry18/1/18Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin, is a coming-of-age story in which Eilis matures enormously throughout the book. Coming from a small, humble town in Ireland, Eilis feels as if the whole town is watching and monitoring her, so she tries her best to blend in and not stand out. As a result, she becomes introverted, indecisive, and self-effacing. Others encourage Eilis to make the gutsy decision to move to Brooklyn, a vastly different city that offers opportunities to reshape her personality and identity. Brooklyn is an open, diverse environment that forces her to be confident, self-dependent, and indiscreet.

Over the course of the novel, Eilis’ personality is shaped and changed by the places in which she lives. Eilis comes from the tiny town of Enniscorthy, Ireland, which is driven by its small, tightly knit population of the people living there. Eilis feels very close to the people in Enniscorthy and gossip spreads rapidly because the town is so small. When Eilis is working at the shop, many ladies come in and gossip. When Eilis reflects on the town’s dynamics, she says: ‘Oh, the whole town, anyone who is anyone, comes into the shop and I hear everything’ (5). Eilis is scared that if she steps out of her comfort zone and tries to be independent and different, the whole town will talk about and judge her for it. Accordingly, she lets others make her decisions.

Later, when Eilis passes time with her friends, Nancy decides to take a social risk and dances with George Sheridan, one of the town’s most popular boys. Eilis does not know that the two danced, and her friends respond, ‘But everybody saw. I’m surprised you haven’t heard” (7). Eilis does not feel the need to be the center of attention, unlike Nancy, but would rather spend time with her close friends and occasionally go out in town for the night. She feels as if everyone is looking out for her and trying to involve themselves in her simple life. Enniscorthy allows little room for experimentation and error, which allows for less room for people to take risks and be truly independent. In Enniscorthy, Eilis is a self-observer, internalizing her emotions and expressions. When at the dance, Eilis receives glaring signals throughout the night from Jim that he wants to dance when her. Later that same night, Jim starts to ignore her, which leaves Eilis very confused and disappointed. When Jim, “did not look at her again and when the set was over she went and found Nancy and told her quietly that she was leaving and would see her soon. She shook hands with George and made the excuse that she was tired, and then walked from the hall with as much dignity as she could” (34). Eilis has the opportunity to express her distress to Jim and let others know how she feels, but she decides to suppress her feelings and leave the dance. Eilis fears that the town would judge her for expressing her feelings and interacting with Jim, whose social standing is higher than hers. This causes Eilis to feels repressed and emotionally stifled. Everything changes, however, once she goes to Brooklyn.

After Eilis finalizes her decision to leave for Brooklyn, she says goodbye to her family and friends, and prepares to embark on her journey to the unknown world. Eilis forges a friendship with Georgina on the ship. This relationship marks the beginning of Eilis’ transformation into a confident, assured individual. After Georgina puts makeup on Eilis in an effort to make her more presentable, Eilis, “looked at herself in the mirror and she is surprised. She seemed older and, she thought, almost good-looking” (72). Upon embarking to the unknown world, Eilis realizes that she has no choice but to embrace adulthood, something that she has never had to face. Eilis notices a change in her physical traits, which directly affects her confidence, which is something that she develops once in Brooklyn. Once she arrives in Brooklyn, there is an adjusting period where she deeply misses Ireland and has not completely left her life in Enniscorthy. After she settles in, she begins to put herself in uncomfortable positions in order to integrate into the culture. The Christmas dinner or going to dances, where she knows no one else challenges and compels her to grow in confidence.

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As she spends more time in Brooklyn, she starts to become increasingly self-dependent and gains confidence in herself. She tries to integrate into the American culture by wearing American clothes and focusing on her physical appearance, something she never did previously in Ireland. When Tony invites Eilis to baseball game, she accepts even though she would have prefered not to go. Eilis ‘wanted to be as much a part of everything as she could’ (213). Eilis immerses herself in the culture of Brooklyn by trying to be more open and adventurous.

Through these new experiences in Brooklyn, she allows herself to be part of a culture that promotes personality traits such as independence and adventurousness. When Eilis returns back to her small, conservative town in Ireland, she feels like a new person due to her time in her new home. Brooklyn has changed her. Many people notice the significant changes in her personality, including Nancy, who knows Eilis well. “You seem more grown up and serious. And in your American clothes you look different. ” (292). Eilis has become more confident and “grown up and serious. ” Eilis has fully adapted to the culture of her new world and in doing so, she becomes independent and confident enough to face adulthood. Upon returning to Enniscorthy, Eilis feels like she is an outsider because of her personal growth in Brooklyn. Noticed and judged by the people in her town, Eilis accepts and even enjoys the positive attention. Now that Eilis has confidence in herself, she embraces physical and emotional expressions in ways she would never have done previously. Eilis, however, suffers an identity crisis when in Ireland because she is torn between her two worlds, requiring strength in different personality traits. Eilis is easily influenced by people, such as Rose, Georgina, and Tony. Her personality traits are also heavily influenced by her two locations: Enniscorthy and Brooklyn. By allowing her to leave and returning to her homeland, Brooklyn allows the reader to measure and witness Eilis’ growth and maturity. Initially, Enniscorthy and its people impose themselves on Eilis and force her to be introverted, indecisive, and self-effacing. Brooklyn offers Eilis opportunities to grow and assert herself in ways not possible in Enniscorthy.

When she returns home, Eilis reveals herself to be a strong and independent woman. Brooklyn is a novel about maturing into adulthood, going from dependency to independence, and the struggles that a young girl faces on her journey. The novel addresses such independence themes as being judged, leaving a familiar home, and forging new friendships. Eilis’ experiences remind us of the importance of leaving our comfort zones. Neale Donald Walsch echos these important themes and ideas when he states, “Life begins where your comfort zone ends” (https://www. brainyquote. com). Dear Mrs. Ellis, I believe that this essay is far more developed than my first draft due to my extended analysis. When writing, I realized that I need to ask the question: “so what” in my paper. If I do so, that will provide the reader with something to further think about in the book. I also developed my conclusion paragraph in a way that it summarizes my book, while also being specific and trying to relate the themes to applicable life lessons.

If I were given more time, I believe that I would insert more quotes into my paper, as they provide evidence and examples to strengthen my thesis. I also would like to connect my thesis to the hero’s journey more. I would explore the differences between the ordinary world and the special world, and how Eilis’ ordinary world changes. I would focus on writing a more structured outline, and spending more time on the essay evidence and analysis. I think it would have also been more helpful to look throughout the book, and find evidence from different scenes that would add to my thesis. I feel like I met with Mrs. Ellis, and that really aided my essay. Next essay, I plan to meet with her again to help me formulate my thoughts onto paper.

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Change and Reform: Eilis’ Journey to Independence in Brooklyn. (2020, November 26). WritingBros. Retrieved June 13, 2021, from
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