Brooklyn Irony

Eilis's ignorance of the Holocaust (dramatic irony)

Because the narration is limited strictly to Eilis's perspective, there are few examples of dramatic irony in the novel, meaning there are few times that the reader knows more than the protagonist. One that particularly stands out is in Eilis's conversation with the bookshop owner on page 124-125. She goes to the shop on the advice of her teacher Joshua Rosenblum, in order to buy some additional books to help her prepare for exams. When she gives the shop owner her list of books, he recognizes the handwriting, and asks Eilis the name of her teacher. It turns out that he knows Joshua Rosenblum personally, and he talks about how clever and talented he is. But the name also brings up bad memories, and he asks Eilis, rather emotionally, if she could imagine a country that would want to kill him. Eilis's perplexed look prompts him to clarify that the Germans killed Rosenblum's family, and tried to kill him too.

At this point, the reader understands that what he is referring to is likely the Holocaust, or the massacre of millions of Jews by the Germans in World War II. It is an event that is taught in nearly every world history class in modern times. But Eilis does not have this experience, and so she still does not understand. She asks him if he means that they were killed during the war. He answers, "'In the holocaust, in the churben.'" Eilis, unfamiliar with the word, only repeats her question. He finally answers yes, but Eilis realizes then, "that he wanted her to leave the shop and there was nothing she could do to make him tell her anything more." Even by the time she leaves, she still has no understanding of what happened during the Holocaust and why that might be significant for Joshua Rosenblum and this Jewish shopkeeper. It is a moment that clearly shows her ignorance of racial issues, an ignorance that has consequences in America, where it never did in Enniscorthy. She upsets and ultimately hurts the shopkeeper with her blunt questioning, even though he recognizes her innocence.

Eilis insulting Sheila Heffernan (verbal irony)

On page 122, in Eilis's argument with her fellow boarders, we find a good example of verbal irony, where what a speaker literally says contrasts with what they actually mean. Eilis and her fellow boarders are discussing Bartocci's recent decision to sell stockings for black women. The other boarders, especially Sheila and Miss McAdam, make racist remarks about the policy, and criticize Eilis's decision to continue to work there and serve black customers. Sheila tells Eilis that she will not be shopping at Bartocci's anymore, and that she will even cross the street when she walks by the store. Eilis, completely fed up, has a snarky reply: "'I'll tell Mr. Bartocci that. He'll be very upset, Sheila. You and your friend here are famous for your style, especially for the ladders in your stockings and the fussy old cardigans you wear.'" Eilis is clearly being sarcastic, here. She is trying to say that no one will care whether Sheila continues to shop at Bartocci's, least of all Mr. Bartocci, and that she is hardly the young, stylish customer they seek to attract anyway.

Tony calling himself a saint (verbal irony)

On page 158, we see another good example of verbal irony, this time in the form of overstatement. Tony is called away from dinner with Eilis and his family to help one of their neighbors with a plumbing problem. When he returns a while later, covered in grime, he grins and says "'I'm a saint.'" Here, he clearly means that he is a good friend for doing the favor of fixing the pipes, especially at such an important moment for him and his family. He also signals to Eilis that he regretted leaving her alone at that moment, but keeps the conversation light.

Diana Insisting she heard nothing (verbal irony)

On page 196, we have another example of verbal irony. Diana, Patty, and Eilis are all in the kitchen the morning after Eilis has let Tony stay in her room. Mrs. Kehoe gives Eilis the cold shoulder, leading her to believe that she knows what Eilis has done. When Mrs. Kehoe leaves, Patty asks why she is in such a bad mood. Diana looks at Eilis and says that she thinks she knows, but "'as God is my witness I heard nothing.'" Patty asks what she heard, and Diana insists she heard nothing, "but it sounded lovely." Here she signals that she heard Eilis and Tony together, but that she will not say anything to Mrs. Kehoe or the other girls. It is also her way of teasing Eilis.