In any detective novel, the readers are in doubt. They are indulged in the novel for one particular reason. Who is the criminal? Why did they kill him? However, Jonathan Lethem went beyond that. He created a fine piece of art that submerged the reader in the solving of a mystery but also he created a connection between Lionel and the reader. In a typical detective novel, the main focus is on the case. The life of the detective is only a detail. However, Lionel’s life added depth and a meaning to the novel. The author evoked compassion and pity from the reader toward the protagonist. JEFF’S NOTE: GREAT. HOW? Therefore, I strongly believe that If Ed Norton were to produce a film based on this novel, he should definitely put emphasis on the core conflict of the plot and the protagonist’s inner conflict.

  • Edward Norton should focus on the relationship between Frank Minna and Lionel. He should show how Lionel evolves and develops without Frank. How does he deal without Frank? Also, he should demonstrate how Lionel gradually recognizes the truth about his mentor. This is one of the main conflicts in the story and Ed should focus on this. JEFF’S NOTE: VERY GOOD. TRY TO CONDENSE THIS ONE SENTENCE (IT WILL BE HELPFUL FOR YOU)

Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn is plotted like any other detective novel. The detective is faced with a mystery that he wants to solve. In Lethem’s novel, Lionel, the foolish detective, is faced with an issue. He wants to find Frank’s killer. Frank Minna was a mentor for Lionel. Lionel grew up as an orphan and never had someone that he can look up to. In other words, he was missing a source of guidance. So, Frank was an idol and became a father figure to Lionel. However, Frank wasn’t exactly the right model to follow. He used Lionel and the others orphans, Tony, Gilbert,and Danny, because they were young, innocent and lost. JEFF’S NOTE: YES. GREAT READING. Therefore, he took advantage of that and fed them with false information (brain wash). They were raised and developed a mind filled with crap. Tony was the wiser orphan. He was the only one that had common sense. Tony tells Lionel, “the problem with you, Lionel, is you don’t know anything about how the world really works. Everything you know comes from Frank Minna or a book. I don’t know which is worse.” (184). Also, Gerald tells Lionel, “He kept you charmed and flattered but also in the dark, so your sense of even his small world was diminished, two dimensional” (231). Lionel Essrog was uneducated and brainless because of Frank. Lionel was depending on Frank. Therefore, losing Frank was devastating for Lionel. Essrog mentions, “I wished that Frank would whisper a clue in my ear from the beyond” (141). This shows that he lost his point of guidance and needed Frank.

Also, Lionel thought that Frank was the most inspiring man in the world. However, Lionel’s world was limited and eventually he became blind to the reality. He was oblivious to the truth. He couldn’t see that Frank was an impostor. This is an important point that Ed Norton should focus on. JEFF’S NOTE: I REALLY LIKE THIS IDEA.

The reader is seeing how the main character is being more independent. At the beginning, he is completely lost, but he continues searching and working by himself. Frank was exploiting Lionel because of his innocence and naivety. In fact, Lionel mimics Frank in a similar way. This time, he was the leader and Loomis was the new Lionel. Lionel commands Loomis, “write that down. I need some records on the building, management company, head of the board, whatever you can find out. See if any names you recognize pop up” (161). For once, he is asserting dominance over someone else. Lionel also says, “For once I was playing lead detective instead of comic – or Tourettic – relief.” (143). This shows that he is gaining more power and freedom without Frank around. Frank used Tony as his right-hand man. JEFF’S NOTE: GREAT MOMENT TO HIGHLIGHT. Therefore, Lionel didn’t always have the spotlight on him. However, after his death, he starts gaining some power. Lionel mentions, “I’d never made a street call before, and felt quite Captain Kirk-ish” (153).2

Lionel is becoming more confident. This is something that he wouldn’t be doing if Frank was around. As the case is in progress, new clues are coming to Lionel. He peels little by little all the layer that covers this story. Lionel becomes vigilant and skeptical. He utters, “I thought about Minna himself, the mystery of his connection in the Zendo, his caustic familiarity with his betrayer, his disastrous preference for keeping his Men in the dark and how he’d paid for it.” (118). At this point, the pieces of the puzzle were still scattered. However, once that he puts everything together, Lionel recognizes Frank. Frank was only an impostor. At the end, an important, but weird, scene demonstrates how Lionel recognizes Frank. The protagonist narrates, “I took off my right shoe, felt the polished leather that had served me well, the fine stitching and the fraying lace, kissed it good-bye on the top of the tongue, then threw it high and far and watched it splash silently into the waves” (303). This scene, where Lionel is in front of the ocean, has an important symbolic meaning. Since Lionel acquainted Frank, Frank dictated every single step that Lionel took. Therefore, throwing the shoes that Frank gave him symbolizes that Lionel finally decides to not follow Frank’s footsteps anymore. However, this doesn’t mean that he is done with Frank. In that same scene, Lionel “threw [ Minna’s beeper] as far as [he] could, but it didn’t have enough heft to keep from being knocked down by the wind,” (302).  The fact that it was knocked down by the wind has also a symbolic.  This symbolizes that it is impossible for Lionel to erase Frank of his life. JEFF’S NOTE: INTERESTING. Lionel always has a part of Frank in him.

  • How does Lionel deal with his Tourette syndrome?

The protagonist of the novel, Lionel Essrog, is characterized as an individual that is preoccupied with his Tourette syndrome. From the beginning until the end of the story, Tourette plays a major role. It’s Lionel’s main concern. It is the inner conflict that he has to deal with everything. Therefore, this should also be another conflict that Ed Norton should focus on. Lionel is an insecure, low self-esteem and pathetic individual. His tics are a barrier in his life. It limits his social interaction with people. Lionel describes it as “an itch at first. Inconsequential. But that itch is soon a torrent behind a straining dam. Noah’s flood. That itch is my whole life.” (2). He also mentions “A Touretter can also be the Invisible Man (44). This demonstrates how Lionel feels and what conflict he has to deal with every day. Lionel wants only to be treated like everyone else. He wants three “A’s”: affection, acceptance, and attention. However, he doesn’t get this. He is only an Invisible Man that everyone ignores. People will glare at him for a second and then forget about him.  The way that he overcomes this barrier is an important point in the novel.

Note; I would like to add this passage. I find it really important. It’s a passage where Lionel is with Kimmery and he says, “the distance between us had narrowed, but the distance between me and me was enormous.” (219).  However, I can’t find a way of connecting it with my text.

  • The story between two brothers and how each of them influenced Lionel

Finally, the most obvious conflict, the major conflict, in this novel is finding who killed Frank. However, this investigation isn’t simple. There are many untold stories that lies beneath the death of Frank. At the end, Lionel recognizes that:

“This was the finishing of something between two brothers, a transaction of brotherly love-hate, something between playing out, a dark, wobbly melody. The notes of the melody had been other people, boss-turned-Minna Men, mobsters, monks, doormen. And women, one woman especially. We’d all been notes in the melody, but the point of the song was the brothers, and the payoff, the last note […] Let it finish in silence. (304).

This passage is the light of the story. It demonstrates that the major conflict of the story wasn’t about finding a criminal, but it was about the relationship between two brothers. JEFF’S NOTE: NOT EXACTLY. THE MAJOR CONFLICT IS INSIDE LIONEL, AS YOU NOTE ABOVE. Two brothers, Gerald and Frank, were responsible for all of this. The other characters, such as Lionel, were exploited by the brothers. The whole story is based on their relationship. It took a while for Lionel to understand all of this. Fortunately, at the end, Lionel recognizes that “Gerard had been leaving himself out of it, playing the Zen innocent, when in fact, he was the wheel’s hub” (293). Gerald was the initial turning wheel (the trigger). That wheel made others wheels turn and created a cascade of events. Like Frank would have said, “wheels with wheels” (182). Everything was interconnected. The story was about two brothers that were hungry for power and money. Gradually, they were digging their own grave without being conscious.


Even though Lionel had nothing to do with the situation, he still wanted to get involved. Lionel said, “I had wanted to think vengeance wasn’t me, wasn’t Tourette or Essroggian at […] then I took the V train.” (310) He explains his choice by saying, “the Minna brothers are a part of me, deep in my grain, deeper than mere behavior, deeper even than regret, Frank because he gave me my life and Gerard because, though I hardly knew him, I took his away. I’ll pretend I never rode that train, but I did.” (310). He didn’t want to take vengeance but he has to do it. It was a way for him to thank Frank and satisfy the guilt that was living in him. He was blaming himself for the death of Frank.

Brief, Ed Norton should focus on the major conflict of the novel and the inner conflict of the character. I believe that they are the main points in the book and it should occupy an important place in the movie.

Work Cited: Lethem, Jonathon. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage, 2000.

Ilyas Mohamed


One thought on “Self-Discovery

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

    All in all, this is an excellent draft. Lots of great ideas. I like the first half of this draft best. I think this is the element you should focus on: how Lionel’s journey is a journey of getting rid of Frank’s influence. Really interesting. I also really like how you highlight the negative influence of Frank and how he took advantage of the boys. Super interesting. Talking about how Frank in a way stifled Lionel’s growth is interesting. And, now, without Frank, Lionel can grow.

    The section about Tourette’s doesn’t quite work as it is. Certainly you can incorporate the idea about Lionel’s Tourette’s in the above idea. It shouldn’t be its own section, it should be part of what you’re talking about. You could choose to focus less on Tourette’s. You aren’t able to talk about everything.

    The part about the two brothers I found less interesting. I’m interested in Lionel’s conflict. I don’t care about Frank or Gerard. They’re much, much, much, much less interesting characters than Lionel.

    Great work so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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