Eilis Lacey is a young Irish woman who makes the trip to America in search of better economic opportunities. When the novel opens, she is smart and likable, but innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Though she gains an education and a new sophistication in America, she still struggles with her sense of identity. She is often unable to understand her own feelings and express them to others, especially in regards to romance. She is often hesitant in her relationship with Tony, and once she reconnects with Jim Farrell, she is unsure if she was ever in love with Tony at all. This indecision and lack of self-knowledge mean that she often allows others to make important decisions for her, as when she is blackmailed by Miss Kelly and forced to return to America. At the end of the novel, these struggles remain unresolved.
Rose Lacey is Eilis’s older sister. She is smart, charismatic, and beautiful. She enjoys some degree of social status in their small town, often golfing with some of its most notable residents. She supports the family by working as a bookkeeper, and works to find Eilis similar opportunities. Eilis looks up to Rose, and tries to emulate her in everything from the clothes she wears to her choice of profession. But Rose keeps much from her younger sister. She suffers from a serious and incurable heart condition which makes it near impossible for her to marry and have a family of her own. This fact likely motivates her decision to send Eilis to America while she stays at home to care for their mother. She hopes to give her sister a better life in spite of her own misfortune. Rose’s sudden death later in the novel leaves a hole in their family.
Mrs. Lacey is Eilis’s mother. She is a good person, and clearly loves her children, but she has a hard time expressing emotion, and often comes off as distant. After the death of her husband, the departure of nearly all of her children for better opportunities, and the loss of Rose, she suffers intense loneliness. But she is so set in her ways that she cannot seem to fathom leaving Enniscorthy, where she is so deeply involved in the life of the town. Eilis and her mother often struggle to communicate, especially about painful topics, and it creates a distance in their relationship that persists until the end of the novel.
Mary is a young woman who works at Miss Kelly’s grocery shop and often delivers her messages. She is constantly anxious, likely as a result of humiliating treatment at Miss Kelly’s shop.
Miss Kelly owns a local grocery shop. She is a vain, pompous, sometimes-malicious woman who looks down on her employees and her less fortunate neighbors. She offers Eilis part-time work in the beginning of the novel, but the work is so degrading that it seems to be a catalyst for Rose’s effort to send Eilis to America. When Eilis returns to Enniscorthy, Miss Kelly is only too happy to tear down her newfound success. She hears from a cousin in America that Eilis is married, and all but threatens to tell the whole town.
Nancy is one of Eilis’s closest friends. She is beautiful and well-liked, but her lack of wealth limits her prospects. She makes a lucky match when she catches the attention of George Sheridan, whose family owns a thriving shop, and the two are soon happily engaged. Nancy clearly wishes the same luck on Eilis, and tries to set her up with Jim Farrell later in the novel.
Annette is another of Eilis’s close friends. She is a minor character and not extensively described in the novel.
Jim is initially introduced as a good friend of George Sheridan. His family owns a popular pub, making them among the most well-off in the town. When he first meets Eilis, he comes off as sulky and rude, unwilling to dance or even make civil conversation. When Eilis returns to Enniscorthy later on, he shows a new interest in her, and she feels that she has misjudged him. He is reserved, and finds it difficult to talk to new people, especially girls. But he has a quiet self-assurance and sensitivity that Eilis is drawn to, and Eilis can see herself being very happy with him. By the end of the novel, he wants to marry Eilis.
Pat Lacey is Eilis’s brother. He has gone to England to seek better work opportunities. We never meet him in the novel.
Martin Lacey is Eilis’s brother. He, too, has gone to England to look for better work opportunities. We never meet him in the novel.
Jack Lacey is another of Eilis's brothers. He meets her in Liverpool and sees her off on her first voyage to America. Though less articulate than his sisters, he has done well for himself working at a spare-parts factory, where he has earned a leadership role because of his reputation for integrity. He is reserved and sensitive, and though he loves his sister, he is not overly affectionate. It is he who writes to tell Eilis that their mother is really suffering after Rose's death, and asks her to return home.
Father Flood is a young Catholic priest at the center of the Irish community in Brooklyn. He is a kind, energetic, and gregarious man who seems to know everyone. Aside from his religious duties, he also takes a keen interest in the broader community, arranging everything from weekly dances to free meals for the poor on holidays. He helps Rose to arrange for Eilis to go to America, securing her a job and a place to live. When she is deeply homesick, he finds Eilis a place in a bookkeeping course at Brooklyn College, and he continues to check in on her from time to time. It is Father Flood that delivers the news of Rose's untimely death, and helps Eilis to make the necessary arrangements to visit Enniscorthy.
Georgina is a passenger who shares a berth with Eilis on her first trip across the Atlantic. She is clearly a seasoned traveler, adept at sneaking into the first-class areas of the ship. When Eilis is locked out of the bathroom, and vomits all over their room the first night, she is surprisingly kind, unlocking the shared bathroom door with a nail file and locking the other side until their neighbors apologize and negotiate a truce. She is experienced, confident, and self-assured. She gives Eilis the advice she needs to survive the journey and get through immigration successfully.
Mrs. Kehoe owns and runs the boarding house where Eilis lives. She is prim and traditional, imposing strict rules and often criticizing Patty and Diana's "giddiness" and "man-mad" behavior. She takes a liking to Eilis immediately, and is kind to her in her own way, even giving her the best room in the house. But their relationship breaks down when Eilis allows Tony to stay the night in her apartment. It is Mrs. Kehoe who confirms to Miss Kelly that Eilis is actually married.
Miss McAdam is a fellow boarder at Mrs. Kehoe's. She is a secretary orginally from Belfast, and she is older than Eilis, Patty and Diana. She is sour, and self-righteous, constantly griping about Patty and Diana and endeavoring to "correct" their behavior. She is also blatantly racist. Eilis initially tries to remain on friendly terms with all of the women, but she cannot help but alienate Miss McAdam by criticizing her racist remarks, associating with Patty and Diana, and eventually sleeping with Tony.
Patty is an American-born Irish girl who also lives at Mrs. Kehoe's. She and Diana are inseparable, and at times indistinguishable. She is bubbly and outgoing, going out often and constantly meeting new men. She is generally kind to Eilis, and even gives her something of a makeover before one of the dances.
Diana, too, is American-born, and half Irish, half Italian. She is much like Patty, but she is particularly characterized by the shrieking fits of laughter which often get her into trouble with Mrs. Kehoe. She is slightly less friendly than Patty, but still civil enough to Eilis.
Sheila Heffernan is much like Miss McAdams. She is from Skerries, and works as a secretary. She, too, is older than Patty, Diana, and Eilis, and often criticizes the younger boarders. She, too, is sour, prim, and prejudiced.
Miss Keegan is an older woman from Galway who lives in the basement of Mrs. Kehoe's house. She rarely talks, and Eilis knows almost nothing about her until she moves out. Her former room is the best room, and it causes an uproar in the house when Mrs. Kehoe gives it to Eilis. As a petty revenge, the other girls tell stories about how Miss Keegan left because a man followed her home and exposed himself to her. It is unclear if any of these stories are true.
Miss Fortini is Eilis's supervisor at Bartocci's. As a boss, she is fair, but firm, and she and Eilis become relatively friendly over the course of the novel. They chat about boyfriends, and she helps Eilis to find a bathing suit for her beach date with Tony. As Eilis tries on the bathing suits, however, Miss Fortini finds any excuse to touch her, and her gaze lingers on Eilis's body, and especially her butt and breasts. It seems that Miss Fortini has at least some sexual interest in women, though she is usually adept at hiding this fact.
Elisabetta Bartocci is the daughter of the owner of Bartocci's, and she runs much of its daily business. She is brisk, polished, and smart. She proves to be a progressive thinker in her business decisions. She seems to respect her employees and invests in their educations. She decides to sell stockings of all colors in order to appeal to the changing demographics of area, which has a growing black population. On top of that, she insists on the same excellent service for these customers.
Eilis meets two middle-aged sisters who both use the name Miss Murphy. They cook for and organize the Christmas dinner for the poor. They are efficient and cheerful, and make Eilis feel at home.
Miss Delano is another salesgirl at Bartocci's. Like Eilis, she is assigned to the Red Fox stockings counter. She is indignant that she will have to wait on black women, and she does as little as possible, leaving most sales to Eilis.
Joshua Rosenblum is Eilis' commercial law professor. He is dynamic and engaging in his lectures, and quickly becomes her favorite teacher. One on one, he is brisk and reserved, but still takes the time to answer Eilis's questions and ask for her feedback about the class. Eilis later learns that his entire family was killed in the Holocaust.
Dolores Grace moves in after Miss Keegan leaves the boarding house. She works as a "scrubber" cleaning houses. At the request of Mrs. Kehoe, Eilis agrees to take Dolores with her to the dance, only to realize that she is insufferable. Not only does she dress badly and wear garish makeup, but she talks incessantly of how she would love a "fella" and how the other girls at Mrs. Kehoe's are "bitches." Eilis is only to happy to escape Dolores by going to say hello to Patty and Diana, and letting Tony walk her home.
Tony, also known as Antonio Giuseppe Fiorello, is Eilis's love interest for much of the novel. She meets him at an Irish dance, and he is immediately smitten with her. He is sweet and gentlemanly, but also funny, with an easygoing confidence that charms Eilis. He is also very open and honest about his emotions, and has strong feelings for Eilis which often intimidate and make her feel as if they are moving too fast. When Eilis must return home after her sister's death, he pleads with her to marry him, sensing that she will not return to Brooklyn otherwise. She does marry him, but she soon comes to feel that it was a mistake, especially after reconnecting with Jim Farrell, who is markedly different from Tony.
Frank is Tony's youngest brother. He is very bright, but he has a big personality, and tends to say whatever is on his mind. When Eilis comes to dinner at Tony's house, he tells Eilis that they do not like Irish people because some Irish men had beaten up Maurice. The whole family scolds him for this, and he is dejected for much of the meal. When Eilis starts a conversation with him later, he tells her all about Tony's ex-girlfriend, a topic that is clearly forbidden. But she does not tell on him to his father, and this wins him over.
Maurice is another of Tony's brothers. He is easygoing and cheerful, but somewhat more reserved. He is patient in answering all Eilis's questions about baseball when they go to a Dodgers game. He is studying cost engineering, and plans to go into business with his brothers.
Laurence Fiorello is Tony's third brother. He is outgoing and can easily hold his own in an argument. He is a carpenter, and plans to go into business with his brothers.
Maria Gethings is one of Rose's former co-workers at Davis's mill. She helps Eilis get situated when she starts working their part-time.
Mr. Brown is the owner of Davis's mill. When Eilis proves herself a capable bookkeeper in filling in for Rose during the busy season, he hints he might soon be able to offer her full-time work, a marked change from his former insistence that he had nothing for her.
Mrs. Bryne is Nancy's mother. At Nancy's wedding, she makes a joke about Jim and Eilis getting married that makes both of them uncomfortable and prompts them to talk about their relationship.
Brooklyn Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Brooklyn is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.