Brooklyn Summary and Analysis of Part III: p. 153-210


When Eilis’s exams are over, she finally agrees to meet Tony’s family. Though he warns her that they look very “Italian,” and very unlike him, she is still surprised by their black hair, dark eyes, and tan skin, which contrast so markedly with Tony’s. She is also surprised by the smallness of the three-room apartment the six family members share.

From the outset, Tony’s youngest brother, Frank, is outspoken, showing her their apartment, including the bed that they had hidden away in the corner of the kitchen. Before long, he comes out with the statement he had clearly been threatening to make: “We don’t like Irish people.” His whole family attempts to quiet him, but he hurries to justify himself, saying that Maurice had been beaten by a group of Irish boys, and that the Irish police officers hadn’t done anything. Tony’s father takes Frank out of the room to scold him, and when Frank returns, he is quiet. Eilis hardly seems hurt by this outburst, even pitying Frank in his dejection, and thinking how much his expressions mirror Tony’s.

As she tells the family about herself, about her courses at Brooklyn College and her goal of becoming a bookkeeper, she tries to focus on eating the spaghetti neatly, using only her fork, as they do. She is fascinated by the unfamiliar food, and the spices she does not recognize, but she tries not to look as if it is all new and strange to her. When Tony is called out to fix a neighbor’s plumbing, she is left alone with the family, and she becomes self-conscious until Frank draws her into conversation. Frank tells her that Tony had lost his last girlfriend after she had vomited on his lap while on the Ferris wheel at Coney Island, and then refused to go out with him again. Tony’s father, wary, asks Frank what he is saying to Eilis, but Eilis simply reports that they were talking about Coney Island, which she had never visited. She makes a face at the amazed Frank, whom she has clearly begun to win over.

Soon, Tony does ask Eilis to visit Coney Island with him. In preparation, Eilis asks Miss Fortini to help her pick out a bathing suit. Miss Fortini gets a few options from a friend who works at a department store, and allows Eilis to try them on at Bartocci’s after the store closes. She scrutinizes Eilis’s figure, advising her to lose a little weight and shave her bikini line. As Eilis tries on each swimsuit, Miss Fortini finds some excuse to touch her, running a finger under the elastic band of the swimsuit bottoms, patting her behind, and allowing her hands to linger on Eilis’s body. She positions herself in front of the dressing room curtain so that Eilis is forced to change in front of her. As Eilis fumbles with the swimsuits, she knows that Miss Fortini is staring at her naked body, her bare breasts. Embarrassed, she quickly chooses two bathing suits to consider further when she goes to the department store the next day, and puts on her clothes.

Eilis soon receives a letter stating that she had passed her final exams, and could move on to her second year of the bookkeeping program. She tells Father Flood the good news, and he is proud of her and her success in America. She tells him that she can afford to pay her tuition for the next year, and will pay him back for the first year shortly after she gets a full-time job, but he tells her that her second year of tuition will be paid by a parishioner looking to do some good in the parish, and that she owes him nothing.

On the day of the Coney Island trip, Tony is impressed by Eilis’s new look, which she completes with sunglasses and a sunhat from Diana. They squeeze into the packed train car, and carve out space for themselves on the crowded beach. As they both strip down to their swimsuits, Eilis worries what Tony will think of her body, wondering whether she was too pale or too fat. But once they are in the water, all Tony wants to do is press their bodies against each other under the water, and Eilis can feel his erection against her. He is unashamed, offering only a goofy grin. They eat a picnic Tony’s mother packed for them, and then return to the water. Tony is not as good a swimmer as Eilis, so she stays close to him. As she wraps her legs around him and kisses him deeply, she can feel his erection once again, and feels a tenderness towards him.

As the summer nears its end, everyone is swept up in the “baseball frenzy.” Eilis’s coworkers, Father Flood, and even Mrs. Kehoe are fans of the game, but no one is more enthusiastic about the game than Tony. He brings Eilis to a Dodgers game with him and his brothers, Maurice, Laurence, and Frank. Tony is in his element at the game, hardly paying attention to her in his excitement about the plays. She likes seeing him this way, and watches him as often as she watches the game. In spite of Maurice’s attempt to explain each play, Eilis does not understand baseball, but finds Tony’s enthusiasm infectious, and has a great day with his family.

After the Christmas holidays, Tony takes the next step in their relationship. He tells Eilis that he and his brothers have bought a plot of land on Long Island that they intend to develop. They will build a house for their parents, three houses to sell, and the remaining house will be Tony’s—and Eilis’s too, if she wants it. He tells her that right now the plot of land is nothing but scrubland, without even basic electricity or plumbing nearby, but they can design the house any way they want, and he will work to build it for them. He and his brothers, with the money from the sales of the other houses, will go into business together buying and developing land. He will support her this way, give her a better life than he currently can. Eilis knows the significance of Tony telling her this, and envisions their life together as he does: marriage, children, and a home of their own on Long Island. She is almost in tears by the end of his speech, and can only nod and pull him towards her.

She writes to Rose to tell her how serious she has become about Tony, and intends to send a letter to her mother as well, who still has not heard about him at all, but she struggles to find the words to describe him and explain his importance to her. She never sends the letter to her mother, but Rose cautions her not to make any hasty decisions, as she is still young, and has such a promising career ahead of her.

Some time later, she is working at Bartocci’s when she is approached by Miss Fortini, who tells her to go to the back office. Eilis is immediately worried, and is even more so when she finds Father Flood waiting for her. He tells her that Rose died in her sleep the night before. Eilis breaks down crying, wishing she had never come to America as she realizes that she will never see her sister again. Father Flood attempts to comfort her, saying that this was what Rose wanted for her, that she loved seeing Eilis succeed, but Eilis is inconsolable. All Father Flood can do is urge Eilis to come back to the presbytery, where he has arranged for her to talk on the phone with her mother.

Eilis’s mother recounts finding Rose cold in her bed that morning, and tells Eilis how she learned from Rose’s doctor that she had suffered from a heart condition. Rose knew about her condition, the doctor said, and knew that it could take her at any moment, but there was nothing they could do to treat it. So, she had kept it to herself, until the awful moment her mother found her. Eilis’s mother is relatively composed, but her true feelings are revealed when she tells Eilis that she only got through Eilis’s father’s death by knowing she had the children, and the departure of her sons because she knew she had Rose, but now she is utterly alone. Eilis breaks down in sobs, and even though Mrs. Kehoe, Father Flood, and Tony all stay with her that evening, she can hardly bring herself to speak to any of them.

The parish offers a mass for Rose the following day, and Eilis returns to work the same afternoon, trying to keep herself busy. After work, she spends time with Tony, and he is a comfort to her, even though she is often quiet and sad. But her grief is compounded when she receives a letter from Jack describing the funeral, and telling her that though her mother would never say so, she is desperately lonely. Jack, Pat and Martin have no choice but to return to work, but Jack suggests that it would greatly comfort their mother if Eilis would visit. Eilis is so affected by this letter than she cannot bear to be alone, and though it is late, she finds herself going to Tony’s apartment. He comes out immediately, and takes her to a diner nearby, where he reads the letter. He pales, and she realizes that he might interpret the letter as a sign that she is going home to Ireland, and leaving him. For a moment, she regrets disturbing him, regrets making him worry, but reflects that coming to him in this moment of need is perhaps the greatest assurance of her love and trust that she has given him.

He walks her home to her apartment, and when they get there, instead of kissing each other goodnight, they both begin to cry. Eilis decides, then, to let Tony stay the night. She tells him to be extremely quiet, as Mrs. Kehoe could turn her out for inviting him in. Inside, they begin to kiss each other, and lie down on the bed, Eilis putting her hands under Tony’s shirt and Tony pulling up her skirt and pressing his erect penis against her. Eilis knows that he will not go any further without some sign from her. She makes the decision, and takes off her panties. Tony gets on top of her, but as he enters her, Eilis suddenly panics. The pain surprises her, and she feels out of control as he pushes deeper, unable even to cry out for fear of being heard. Her whole body tenses, and this only seems to add to the pleasure for Tony, who gasps and moans. She does not tell him to stop, enduring the pain until he is finished. When it is over, she feels awkward. But Tony dispels the awkwardness by undressing himself and then Eilis, slowly and shyly. They lay in bed together quietly, Eilis admiring Tony’s naked body, until she can feel that he wants to have sex again. She tells him he went too deep last time, but she allows him to get on top of her again. He tries to be gentler, but the pain is still intense for Eilis. Still, she loves the way that Tony seems totally lost in the pleasure of her body, how he is hardly aware of her. It makes her want him even more. This is a significant moment for both Eilis herself and the couple’s relationship, and it seems to bring them closer to each other.

It is soon clear that Mrs. Kehoe knows about Eilis and Tony, and is angry with Eilis. Eilis is anxious about what she will do, but she decides to completely deny that she had allowed Tony to stay the night, and act as if she has no idea what Mrs. Kehoe is angry about. Mrs. Kehoe never confronts her, though, instead pointedly installing a lock on the basement door, so that she will have to enter through the front door instead.

Whatever her feelings towards Mrs. Kehoe, Eilis does feel that she and Tony need to go to confession. They decide to go to an Italian church, where no one will recognize Eilis. The priest absolves her, but encourages her to return once she has found out if she is pregnant in order to offer her advice and assistance. Thankfully, she is not, but when she returns to the confessional the priest still encourages her to consider marrying Tony.

It is clear from Father Flood’s chilly manner towards her that Mrs. Kehoe has told him about what she has done. Eilis decides to confront the matter head-on, and goes to see him to ask for advice on what to do to help her mother. When he makes an implicit reference to her actions, she holds his gaze, and assures him, without words, that she will neither recognize his meaning nor apologize to him. He seems to let the matter go, promising to help secure a leave of absence for her at Bartocci’s in order for her to visit her mother in Ireland. She brings up the question of finding new lodgings upon her return, but he urges her to smooth things over with Mrs. Kehoe, implying that she, too, will let the issue drop if Eilis is kind to her. Eilis accepts this, and the arrangements are made. Eilis had not decided whether to visit to Ireland before this meeting, but after talking to Father Flood, it seems the only reasonable course of action, and she makes plans to leave after her exams are completed.

Tony is naturally anxious when he hears her decision, but he does not argue. Instead, he asks Eilis to marry him before she goes, saying that if she does not, she will not come back. She is hesitant, and asks if a promise would not be enough, but he insists that marriage is a real promise. He says that they can do it secretly, telling no one, and get married in a real church upon her return. Eilis finally agrees.

They make the necessary preparations, and a week before she is scheduled to leave, they are married at the courthouse. Afterwards, Eilis admires her wedding ring, and they talk about getting an apartment together after she returns. Eilis wonders happily whether they will tell their children the story of their secret marriage one day.


The second half of Part 3 shifts to focus on the theme of sexuality. One particularly interesting moment is when Miss Fortini is helping Eilis to choose a bathing suit for her beach date with Tony. Though Miss Fortini is ostensibly advising Eilis as a friendly favor, her behavior suggests other motives. She finds any excuse to touch Eilis, to run a finger under the elastic band of her swimsuit, to pat Eilis's bottom, or to adjust the straps of her top. Eilis puts the matter delicately: “Miss Fortini seemed immensely serious, and there was in the way she stood and gazed at her something clear that Eilis knew she would never be able to tell anyone about" (160-161). The interaction is clearly sexually charged, at least for Miss Fortini. But Eilis hardly dares to describe the situation in any more explicit terms, and plans to keep the experience entirely to herself. This would seem to suggest either a strong taboo of same-sex attractions or a lack of vocabulary to talk about these issues, or both.

Even sex between straight couples is obviously little-discussed. Eilis seems to understand only the basic outline of what will occur before she has sex with Tony. She does not expect the pain, and she does not know how to alleviate the pain when it happens. She tenses instead of relaxing, and she does not communicate her feelings to Tony until it is over. She also panics thinking that he will "injure something inside her," though she does not seem to have any specific idea of what this means (194). Eilis knows little about her own body, and much less about how to make sex as enjoyable for herself as it is for Tony. She also clearly has no knowledge of birth control methods, as she shows when “she wondered if there was anything she could do to stop it [pregnancy], if there was something she could wash herself with, but as soon as she thought of that she knew that even the idea was wrong” (197). Though Eilis enjoys the intimacy of sex, and the pleasure it brings Tony, her actual experience of sex is negative, characterized by pain and uncertainty.

Moreover, Eilis soon finds that female sexuality is closely scrutinized. Everyone seems to weigh in on Eilis's decision to have sex. Mrs. Kehoe puts a new lock on the basement door to ensure that Eilis cannot have unannounced visitors. Father Flood suggests that "it might be hard for her mother not only losing Rose but having a daughter who would take a man home to her room for the night" (201). The priest who takes her confession opines that "despite the fact that it was wrong, and was maybe a sign from God that they should consider getting married and raising a family" (200). Eilis discovers that female sexuality, though little talked about, is highly policed.

In addressing these unsolicited opinions, Eilis once again channels Rose, deciding to “deny emphatically and brazenly that Tony had been near her room” and act as if "she were entirely incapable of any wrongdoing.” The text suggests that this is not only a way to avoid conflict, but to stand up for herself, and assert her independence. She essentially stares down Father Flood, letting him know that “she had understood the implications of his words but had no intention of giving them any further consideration” (201).

Apart from sexuality, there is also some notable foreshadowing in this chapter. Before Eilis leaves for Enniscorthy, Tony begs her to marry him, arguing “If you go, you won’t come back” (205). Eilis insists that that is not true, but in this moment, Tony seems a far better judge of Eilis's character than Eilis is herself. Though she does not know it yet, this will be the question Eilis grapples with for the remainder of the book.