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Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin Print Page

About the Author


• Birth—May 30, 1955 
• Where—Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, UK 
• Education—B.A., University College, Dublin 
• Awards—Costa Award
• Currently—Dublin, Ireland

Colm Toibin is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and, most recently, poet.

Toibin is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. He was hailed as a champion of minorities as he collected the 2011 Irish PEN Award. In 2011, he was named one of Britain's Top 300 Intellectuals by The Observer, despite being Irish.

For further information about Colm Tobin, the Lit Lovers website has an excellent overview of his life and work.


Essay Questions

1. ‘Brooklyn depicts the immigrant experience as essentially defined by loss

 and regret.’ Discuss.

 2. ‘While Eilis is a character of genuine integrity she is unable to confront the 

conventional expectations of a woman’s role.’ Do you agree? 

3. ‘Toíbín resists offering readers a simply uplifting story but provides a more

complex portrait of his protagonist, Eilis Lacey.’ Discuss.

4. ‘The nature of personal freedom is the true subject of Brooklyn.’ Discuss. 

5. ‘By returning to Brooklyn and marriage to Tony, Eilis recognises the

 limitations to her independence.’ Do you agree?

6. ‘The twin settings of the novel, Enniscorthy and Brooklyn, play a significant

role in Toíbín’s narrative.’ Discuss.

7. ‘The loneliness and isolation that afflicts Eilis is shown by Toíbín as the

typical products of modern life.’ Discuss.

8. ‘Eilis’s personal transformation is shown to be ultimately futile at the end

of the novel.’ Do you agree?

9. ‘Loss of identity and the need for reinvention are the characteristic

 experiences described in the novel.’ Discuss.

10. ‘Without her family and disconnected from a sense of home, Eilis

 becomes a ‘shadow’ and a ‘ghost’. What enables her to regain her sense of

 identity in Brooklyn?’



A great resource for information about Colm Toibin, articles, background on emigration, Ireland, immigration and America in the 1950's.

Ithaca College Library.

About the Text


Set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel,Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.


Interview with the author

An interview with Colm Toibin about Brooklyn


Toibin reads from Brooklyn

Colm Toibin reads from Brooklyn at the Wheeler centre in Melbourne.


1950's Brooklyn/Ireland

1950's Brooklyn

Prezi on the history of the times

Another Prezi on the text with reference to Mad Men and a clip about social attitudes to contraception.

Images 1950’s Brooklyn


Discussion Questions

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

 Questions for study and discussion. 

 What does the title tell us about the significance of place in this text?

 Describe five to ten differences between Brooklyn and Ireland during

 the 1950s.

  What are the conflicts in Brooklyn? What types of conflicts or

 challenges (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) does Eilis face?

 How does Colm Tóibín reveal character in Brooklyn? Choose five

 characters to focus on. Find and discuss two quotes for each


  Some of the themes in this novel are family, new beginnings,

 multiculturalism, immigration, economic depression, gender roles,

 relationships, personal growth and racism. What other themes can

 you find?

  Chose at least three themes from Brooklyn. How do they are they

 explored through the plot and characters? Include four to five quotes

 for each theme.

 Is Eilis Lacey consistent in her actions? Is she a fully developed

character? How? Why?

 Which of the characters do you find likable? Are these people you

 would want to meet?

  Which of the characters do you find unappealing. Why do you think

 Tóibín includes them?

  Discuss some of the symbols (significant objects, reoccurring motifs

 etc.) in Brooklyn.

  Does the story end the way you expected? How? Why?

  What is the central/primary purpose of the story? Is the purpose

 important or meaningful?

  How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken

 place anywhere else?

  What is the role of women in the text?


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