Confidence Grows

bbDear, Mr. Norton,

Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem, is one eventful novel, there are many particular scenes in the book that can be quite interesting and confusing, but the most confusing scenes tend to be the most important scenes. The main character in the novel, Lionel Essrog, is a dynamic character that undergoes changes within him, such as acceptance of others, self-acceptance of who he is and becoming more independent.

To begin the film, the most important thing to start off with is Lionel, Danny, Tony and Gilbert’s background as orphans who grew up at St. Vincent’s Home for boys, and then continue with the stake out scene where eventually Frank dies. When starting off the novel, I found the very beginning of the book confusing to understand, and once I finished reading it I finally understood what was going on at the very first scene of the book. Since this was a confusing novel, a tip that should be included in the movie is a narrator who talks about the background of the scene, when a specific part of the movie is only easy to understand when you listen to the narrator. For example, Morgan Freeman who, in most films, narrates the story, so you hear his voice and gives you some background information on what’s happening in the movie.

Lionel would look up to Frank, so when Frank dies, Lionel is the most hurt by it. Frank was not only a father figure for Lionel, he was also the one who gave Lionel his identity and self-discovery of who he is, “Understanding Tourette’s Syndrome was the title, first time I’d seen the word” (81). Before Frank gave Lionel the book on his Tourette’s syndrome, everyone just thought he was a freak for no reason, now Lionel can at least justify himself when he tics out of nowhere! Therefore, being with Frank Minna made Lionel build character, but also made him very dependent over Frank, which made it hard for Lionel to accept his passing when he first heard the news. “Why are you pretending your man Minna’s still with us” says the black cop to Lionel, in the scene where they go to the casino, a place where Frank used to always go to, as Lionel reminisces the presence of Frank (114). However, Lionel grows stronger as the days go by and finally accepts the fact that Frank is gone by properly grieving for Frank. Lionel tells the readers, “I put the song on repeat and sat in the light of my candle and waited for the tears,” this shows a different side of Lionel of his heartbreak and grieving for Frank who was someone he depended on (128).  This romantic candle light and elegant song playing in the background somewhat shows a feminine side of Lionel, it’s as if Frank Minna was also the love of his life and he had just broken up with Lionel. Not even Frank’s wife, Julia, felt as much, or any, remorse from his death.

When Frank was still around, Lionel’s tics would add to six, for example “six turkey-sandwich portions,” or six taps on the shoulder in six seconds, etc (128). However when Minna was out of the picture, Lionel got accustomed to five tics per every time his Tourette’s syndrome would come out to play. JEFF’S NOTE: WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Nonetheless, Lionel “killed the music, blew out the candle” indicating a foreshadow event of how Lionel reacts at the very end of the novel (129). Lionel “killed” the outcome of the story that he had discovered, and “blew out the candle” as a sense of moving on with his life and the past he shared with Frank Minna (129). Whereas at the end of the novel Lionel finally comes to a realization that Frank was, yes a part of him, but he is not his whole life. Lionel finally accepts Frank’s death and moves on with his life, and even wishes he didn’t to ride “that train” or that lifestyle ever again (310). JEFF’S NOTE: LIONEL IS REFERRING TO A SPECIFIC “TRAIN HERE.” YOU’RE NOT LOOKING AT THIS PASSAGE CLOSELY ENOUGH.

In contrast to Lionel always being Frank’s go-to person, and always being the one taking notes of the situation, when Minna was around. Now that Frank’s gone, Lionel starts to become more independent of certain situations. Lionel independently takes action in order to put the pieces together of the mystery behind who killed Frank, “let Danny sleep, let Gilbert wait in his cell, let Tony be missing. I’d go to the Zendo” (132). “Are you a cop […] You, uh, talk funny,” said by the doorman Lionel was interrogating at the Zendo, which shows an example of how Lionel took charge of the Frank Minna situation by even falling into his footsteps of being a  detective, not just the note-taker (133).

With becoming more independent, Lionel also becomes more confident with himself, which leads him into finally accepting who he is. Throughout the novel Lionel mostly defines himself by his Tourette’s syndrome, as a freak, odd and unusual person. You see how much Lionel is ashamed of his Tourette’s at the very beginning of the novel, “Here it comes now. Cover your ears. Build an ark. “Eat me!” I scream” (2). However, as Lionel become more independent, trying to solve Frank’s murder on his own, he changes as his confidence grows. For example, Kimmery is the first girl that seems to be attracted to Lionel for who he is and doesn’t get bothered by his tics, and instead, Kimmery shows interest and care for them by asking him “How does it feel when you do that” (217). Kimmery shows her interest and concern for Lionel’s tics by asking him “What do the words mean,” treating Lionel as an actual person and not just a freak show (217). Lionel felt free to tic and say what he wanted in front of her since she had always been encouraging it as something normal.

Also at the end of the novel, Lionel finally has love and support from with friends at L&L that actually becomes a car service company. The acceptance the men have for Lionel helps him accept who he is as well. “We sat together in the L&L storefront at two in the morning, playing poker on the counter,” this scene shows how Lionel now has a real relationship with the other men, not how it used to be only held together by Frank (304). Love from friends also builds Lionel’s confidence and self-approval for who he is.

The scenes of the novel helps provide a story, and also guides the reader into the hands of the main character. The readers feel as though they are Lionel, they feel his guilt, his disapproval of himself throughout the novel, into someone who accepts himself. The main aspect is, not only about finding the murderer of Frank Minna, it’s about Lionel’s life.

Julia Graziani

Lethem,  Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.


One thought on “Confidence Grows

  1. I highlighted a few sentences and made some notes above.

    You have some good ideas in here. It’s good to discuss Lionel’s evolution throughout the novel from dependent to more independent.

    As it stands, though, you’re oversimplifying the novel. Consider a sentence like this: “With becoming more independent, Lionel also becomes more confident with himself, which leads him into finally accepting who he is.” This is true, but this is more of generalization about the novel. Your job as a close reader is to look carefully at specific moments from the novel, and discuss how each of these moments shows a growth in Lionel’s character. You’re starting to do that, but you’re oversimplifying his struggle. In fact, from what you wrote, it doesn’t seem like Lionel struggled much at all to go from dependent to independent. Try to take a closer look at the moments you cite, and really try to decipher what’s going on beneath the surface of the action. You’re starting to do this, but not quite enough.

    Also, you’re misreading a few of these citations. It’s totally okay if you found the novel confusing. It is confusing. But, it’s up to you to come and speak to me if there are things you’re not getting. On that note, I’d suggest coming to speak to me about this draft so we can make sure you’re on the right track for the final draft.


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