One Book, One Chicago Spring 2010
- In Ireland, much remains unsaid between Eilis, her mother and her sister Rose, particularly when they prepare for Eilis’s departure for America. Why do you feel that they don’t express themselves more freely? Does their silence make her leaving easier or more difficult? What might they say if they were less guarded?
- The letters that Eilis receives from home are her only connection to other people when she first gets to Brooklyn. Contrast this situation with the ease of communication—via email, social networks, etc.—today. Does the infrequency of letters to and from home make it easier for Eilis to establish her place in Brooklyn? Would such freedom be more difficult today, with the constant communication available to us?
- What are some of the contrasts between Eilis’s home life in Enniscorthy with Tony’s in Brooklyn? What do you think Tóibín’s intentions were in creating this contrast between their physical homes as well as their families?
- Eilis’s brothers have all moved to England before Eilis herself goes to America, and a contrast is drawn between those two emigration stories: “while people from the town who lived in England missed Enniscorthy, no one who went to America missed home. Instead they were happy there and proud.” (p. 26) Why might Eilis have had this preconception? Later, when she sees the poor Irish men come for Christmas dinner at the Brooklyn church, she is shocked and wonders why they haven’t gone home. How important is the shattering of this preconception to Eilis’s growth?
- What do you think of Eilis’s reaction to various discriminations that are presented in the book—from her relationship with Tony who is Italian-American, to her interaction with African American women at her job, to her response to the new boarder at Mrs. Kehoe’s who cleans homes and is looked down upon by the other boarders? What do these various levels of the 1950s class system say about Brooklyn, and America, at that time?
- How do Eilis’s feelings for Tony grow, and how realistic do you feel their relationship is?
- How does Eilis perceive herself before she leaves for America, and how is she perceived by others? Discuss how that changes when she returns to Ireland later in the book.
- Why doesn’t Eilis want to accept Rose’s clothes from her mother when she returns to Ireland? Discuss the importance of clothes to the sisters and their mother, as well as their importance to the women at the boarding house in Brooklyn.
- Share your thoughts on the ending of the novel. If there were another 50 pages to be added, what would you like to see happen for Eilis, and where should she ultimately call home?
- Think about the character of Eilis and discuss how accessible she is. How much did you relate to Eilis, and did you find her likeable? How important is it to simply like a character at the heart of a story, and do your feelings about a character affect your feelings about a story as a whole?