Compare-Contrast: Toibin’s Use of Opposites Essay
Brooklyn tells the story of an ordinary Enniscorthy young woman, Eilis, who believes that she, is destined to live in her local town. She does not imagine life out of her little town with all the familiar things like the church in her little town. However, this quiet and uneventful lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt when one Father Flood proposes that she moves to America and try to make a better life out of herself. This is the point at which her life takes a turn to experience an entirely different life. Everything about her changes and she is destined for a difficult transition from the boring and banal life in Ireland, to the busy and exciting lifestyle in Brooklyn. Toibin has used opposites to describe this transition in the life of Eilis, and they play a role in creating the two different images she portrays in both cities (Toibin, 24).
Toibin’s use of opposites shows Eilis’ personal metamorphosis in that the protagonist breaks through the social constrains of her Irish society by liberating herself in Brooklyn’s anonymity.
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp”
These words of Emma which are in scripted sends a message that the literary character, Eilis, in Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn, could be seen as someone who has dreams but is imprisoned in her present situation in Ireland. However, her situation changes when an Irish-American priest, Father Flood, proposes to her the idea of immigrating to America and making a better life for herself by getting a good job (Toibin, 23).
Toibin has made use of opposites in the story to bring out the life history of Eilis, and the major events in her life.
The first opposite is Eilis’ job. She is a youthful Enniscorthy woman living in Ireland, a place she never dreamt of leaving in all the years of her life. Her job in the small town is that of a grocery attendant, which she gets to do only on Sundays. This cannot be compared to her Brooklyn job which is a fulltime job, and pays rather comfortably. She works at a shop floor, Bartocci’s, where she stands from nine to six o’clock, six days a week, after which she attends night classes to pursue bookkeeping. As such, she was busy all the time, and very occupied, a fact that left little time for her to do anything else (Toibin, 81). In Brooklyn, there are no existing jobs and as Toibin describes the situation, “no work for anyone…no matter what their qualifications”. This is very different from the Brooklyn situation whereby jobs are readily available, especially for people like Eilis who have got some basic training. She has some training in bookkeeping and would use her services in performing an office job in America, as opposed to wasting her youth in a corner shop in the local town. These were the words of Father Flood, who proposed to her the idea of moving to America (Toibin, 24).
Rose is Eilis’ elder sister, 30 years old and currently holding one of the few good and enviable jobs in the town, where she works in the office of a local factory. She is glamorous, and loves playing golf. In contrast, Eilis has no stable job and only works on Sundays attending to a local grocery (Toibin, 6).
Her diverse lifestyles in the two cities have also been used by the author to show opposites. In Ireland, she lives in a small nondescript house with her fragile mother and older sister. She spends most of her time at the kitchen of their little house because there is nothing much to do there. This is in contrast to her living quarters in Brooklyn, where she lives in a boarding house. At first glimpse of the boarding house, she makes a rather observant and awed response, owing to the fact that she had never seen something like this before, “She saw an old gramophone and a wireless in another corner and noticed that the tassels on the tablecloth and the curtains seemed to match. She began to take note of all the details, thinking, for the first time in days, how she could include an account of them in a letter to her mother and Rose.”(Toibin, 78)
Unlike her house in Ireland, the boarding house is much larger and houses more people. In Brooklyn, her lifestyle is also busier and her time more occupied by the many activities/ chores she has to perform. For starters, she has to attend work every morning where she works until late at Bartocci & Company, Fulton Street (Toibin, 27). After work, she attends evening book-keeping classes so that she may advance her career and make a good life out of herself. She also gets to enjoy her free time by attending dances organized by the local clergyman, though in most of these events, she gets to leave early to go home and rest. This is unlike her lifestyle back in Ireland which was rather dull and, even banal. All she ever got to do was household chores and take a walk around the village, or better still visit her friends for a walk or chat. This was in addition to her boring and uneventful one-day job at the grocery (Toibin, 66).
Ireland and Brooklyn have been used by Toibin to represent two rather diverse cities. While Brooklyn was a city endowed with lots of development, it boasted of many modern buildings, many cars and very beautiful and fashionable people. There were also many bright lights as described by Rose, in a letter to Eilis, where she stated that Eilis was lucky to be in the bright lights. Their little town in Ireland was very different from the city; it was dull and lacked all the beautiful features that were found in Brooklyn (Toibin, 85).
In Brooklyn, people speak out their minds and openly express what they feel at any one time. However, it is somewhat forbidden to gossip, a factor which has been brought out by Eilis’ boardinghouse landlady who forbids gossip in the house, but encourages open talk about fashion. In contrast, people in Ireland are very reserved. This can be seen from the period when Eilis was preparing to leave for America (Toibin, 25). As described by Toibin, her mother and sister avoided to speak about the torture they had in their hearts at the thought that Eilis was leaving town, maybe for good. It was however not clear whether the topic was avoided due to the fact that the situation, having been initiated by a priest was completely understood therefore did not warrant any more discussion, or it was whether they were afraid of opening up concealed feelings of departures that had happened in the recent past. The story has been told of their father’s death and the migration of their three brothers to England for greener pastures (Toibin, 25, 30).
After Eilis had moved to Brooklyn, she kept in touch with her family by way of writing letters to them describing everything that she went through in the new country. Her job, day to day activities and most of the things that she encounters, though she leaves out some which she finds unbelievable and some others she deems rather personal. In one of those things she notes not to tell her family is the cold weather in America. Using Toibin’s words, Brooklyn was “The coldest Place on Earth”. By these simple words, it is obvious that Brooklyn and Ireland are at diverse ends in terms of climatic conditions; with Brooklyn being extremely cold while Ireland was rather warm (Toibin, 83). The place was so cold and she had never experienced such weather in her life, and that was the reason that she chose to keep that to herself because she knew if she told her sister and mother about it, they would never understand the feeling, knowing that they had also never experienced such (Toibin, 58).
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