Lionel’s puberty of confidence !

Here is a word version of my final draft since I couldn’t upload my quotes correctly :  fa-final-draft

Dear Mr. Norton,

I am sure after reading the novel Motherless Brooklyn, the first element that grabbed your attention was Lionel’s Tourette Syndrome. At first glance, the author gives the impression of focusing more on the mystery of Frank Minna. However, in reality Jonathan Lethem is slowly removing the petals of Lionel’s rose of confidence. He’s in fact removing layers to uncover his real personality. From the exterior , it looks like a wilted rose tinted with insecurities and tics but with time and watering from the fountain of evolution the interior will be tinted with bright color of confidence. Indeed, with time, we can clearly see that Lionel accumulates more confidence.

Lionel’s individuality and his uniqueness makes him even more likeable and his special way of ticking highlights even more his asymmetrical personality and ticklishness Tourette Syndrome. His personality is in a way a mix of his tic’s dominance and of his own low self-esteem. It gives the impression that his tics are occupying and dominating such an important place  in his character that it seems to choke all of his qualities which creates an imbalance in his personality. For example, he seems really affected by the way the Minna Men are saying his name: “My own name was the original verbal taffy, by now stretched to filament-thin threads that lay all over the floor of my echo-chamber skull. Slack, the flavor all chewed out of it” (7). The author creates strong images when he’s comparing Lionel’s verbal outbursts to an echo-chamber skull. This passage points out even more Lionel’s tics to a certain extent where Lionel is summarized as tic not a human being. It gives the impression that the protagonist is not only a person affected by tics, he is himself a tic.

His tics are like a bag of tricks, fluky and extremely hard to predict what will come out of his surprise bag, of his so-called motor mouth. The process is really easy to initiate the machinery, you only need to destabilize his emotions in order to engage the gear of temperament or should I say to wake up brutally Mister weirdness with all his roughness. It is really easy to provoke Lionel’s tics, you only need to hurt or tease his feelings in order to make Lionel tic. The detective’s tics are a mix of vocal outbursts and recurring gestures and manners that can resurface when he is facing, unsettled, and climbs rocky mountain of emotions. For instance, when the detective is remembering his childhood, he describes how his physical tics take form: “ So though I collected words, treasured them down , filling off their edges, stacking them into teetering piles , before release I translated them into physical performance , manic choreography” (47 ). Clearly, Lionel is trying in his own way to fight his interior demons, his tics, by accumulating all his repetitive and non sense thoughts and transforming it into physical movements in order to feel relieved and soothed. Even with all the efforts that he puts in it, it seems that the protagonist is whacked by the wind of peculiarity, non acceptance, rejection with a breeze of endemic tics in order to attain the highest point of confidence and self-importance. In addition, Lionel’s behavior creates the impression of being controlled with strings of emotions which monitor his smallest deeds and gestures such as a fantoccini.Hence, his tics convey the impression of not only being a part him, but surprisingly they occupy a special place in his life, they are like a second character , a second skin , another human being within himself.

His naivety and innocence, paint perfectly the portrait of a childish character which makes him a vulnerable and easy target. For instance , the first manifestation of his tics is when his friend Gilbert challenges him to go touch the penguins inside the open enclosure, we see his lack of confidence and vulnerability. Hence, this triggering factor has started the mechanism of touching, kissing, tapping and his echolalia : “I was know a kid who’d do anything do crazy things… I was crazy but also malleable, easily intimidated…” (42) . Here, Lionel seems to have a screw loose. He does not define himself as a “normal human being” instead he characterizes himself as a crazy man, almost representing himself as a human drowning in the sea of insanity. The fact that he acknowledges his craziness, belittle him in front of others, he’s in reality living in the shadows of his own perceptions. Indeed, the way he sees himself is only the reflection of what others think and how they characterize him. Therefore, his Tourette first apparition was in reality just lie dormant inside this pitiful outside looking human being.

Also, another part of Lionel that is hidden is his sense of humor, that some people might find it redundant, farcical and even ridiculous, ambiguous, asynchronous, knot -hilarious. It seems that Lionel forgot to leave his childhood coat to give away to the adulthood coat; maturity and a boost of self – respect. When Frank Minna was alive, for the first time Lionel tried to step out of his comfort zone, when he tried to explore an unknown territory, the region of self-affirmation where we can see that he is still unsure about himself:

“You ever listen to yourself, Lionel ?” Minna would say later, shaking his head        “You really are shot out of fucking cannon.”                                                                           “Scott Out of the Canyon! I dont know why, I just-fuckitup!-I just can’t stop.”      “You’re a freakshow, that’s why. Human freakshow, and its free. Free to the public.”

“Freefreak!” I hit him on the shoulder.                                                                                      “That’s what I said: a free human freak show.” (57-58)

At first sight, Lionel gives the feeling of being accustomed to the criticism of Frank Minna.He’s repeating uncontrollably the degrading words used by Frank to define himself as way to relieve himself from Minna’s dominance. Despite all his efforts to stop his vocal outbursts Lionel found himself in a vulnerable position. In addition, this passage shows how much Lionel is helpless in front of other people to a point where he loses his confidence.

Furthermore, one major key scene that exposes his lack of judgement and highlights even more his childlike behaviour is when he has an altercation with the hospital guard. Lionel is so frustrated that he starts to yell jokes that he forgot to tell Minna. It is interesting enough, since he seems to be more preoccupied by the fact that he forgot to tell his screamingly funny joke than the health condition of his role model, Frank Minna. In this passage, the narrator emphasizes even more the boyishness of his humor when he says,

Piece! Of! String! I said, recalling another joke I hadn’t told Minna,                                 also set in a bar. My heart sank. I wanted to barge in and begin recit-                              ing it to his doctors, to his white intubed face. “String! Walks! In!” …”WEDON’TDESERVESTRING!” (32 ).

Lionel is so focused on his  task  to tell jokes that it seems that he can’t control this urge, he is comparable to an impatient child who is incapable to settle down due to his almost palpable excitement. How can such a human being continue to behave childishly? In fact, his involuntary impulses seem to make him act a certain way or makes him say words he silently thinks but loudly say. It gives the strange impression that his tics are like mini personified emotions, set in his mind, that try to lead and direct his life.

Another compelling aspect of the self-proclaimed official detective is during the puberty of confidence. In fact, it is the moment where there was an important rise of  self-esteem. The sudden burst of confidence and ruler like attitude are the major signs of his development, growth of assurance and metamorphosis. When he was younger, the protagonist was not able to affirm himself or simply to stand for his opinion since he was always smashed under the feet of insecurities and a bad self-esteem. Also, we can notice his character transforming and becoming more and more like a hard-boiled detective. The small looking “ insect“ that was once mistaken as inoffensive and “crazy“ is now metamorphosing into an imposing butterfly. For instance, when Danny gives orders to the Minna Men, including Lionel, for the first time, HE, Lionel decides to stand out for his opinion and openly confront his co-workers who were used to make fun of him. Which shows perfectly the beginning of an affirming Essrog who refused to be manipulated again: “What about me ?” I said . “You want me – Criminal Fishrug! – to go with you ?I know the place” ( 97). Here , we can feel that Lionel is slowly gaining more confidence which allows him to express himself much easily than before and is capable of facing his bully.

Furthermore, Lionel is showing once more one of his facets that was once buried under all the tough layers of insecurities. As the investigation is progressing, this peculiar character is gradually following the steps of Frank Minna . Since Minna was his role model , we can start to see the protagonist developing similar characteristics to Frank. Indeed, after the death of Frank Minna , it seems that Lionel is more direct, less self-centered and is becoming a cynical character. As a matter of fact, being the target of many insults and teasing should have taught him the lesson of humbleness and respect. However, when he feels that he is in a higher position than someone he bizarrely starts to judge and criticizes them. When Lionel is in company with Loomis, he shows his exasperation when he says,

I’d be rid of him soon. …                                                                                                                 This was another thing I hated about Loomis. Years ago he’d                                           latched on to Minna’s joke-telling contests, decided he could comp-                                   ete. But he favored idiot riddles, not jokes at all, no room for charac-                               ter or nuance. He didn’t seem to know the difference . (122-123)

This passage points out Lionel’s lack of judgement, since he seems to forget that he was seen as a “ freak“ telling stupid jokes too. Moreover, the fact that he gives Loomis a degrading nickname such as “The garbage cop“ is funny enough because Lionel is named “freakshow” (123). In addition, Lionel’s daring character is resurfacing when he refuses to give a ride to Loomis:

“ I thought you were driving me home.” Loomis lived on Nevis                             Street,near the projects.                                                                                                                          “You can walk from here, gofuckacop.”                                                                      “C’mon,Lionel.”                                                                                                                                       I parked in the open spot in across from storefront.The sooner                                          Loomis and I were out of each other’s presence , the better.”     (124)

Once again, Lionel is affirming himself by directly telling to Loomis that he’s not giving him a lift to his house. Surprisingly, he’s treating Loomis like rubbish. If we compared Lionel, to the beginning of the story he wouldn’t be able to refuse a ride and order him to get out of the car and walk all the way home alone. Hence, his boost of confidence has allowed him to express himself and adopt a similar Minna Men’s manly behaviour : being tough and arrogant.

Besides his changing character, the protagonist has reached the peak of adulthood ; which allowed him to unfold his personality and shovel the soil of his true nature. Before, Lionel was incapable to use his Tourette syndrome as tool to fool someone. For example, when he was facing the detective cop he decided to divert the situation by letting him think that the possible criminal is Tourette when he says, “No good , I was juggling too much , and when I reticced, it came out as below :

“Tourette is the Shitman!” …                                                                                                             “ No, no there’s no Tourette,” I said catching my breath .I felt mad                                 for food , desperate to shake the detective , and choked with imminent                    tics…                                                                                                                                                             He thought he was grooming a stool pigeon. I could only try to not to                             laugh or shout. Let Tourette be the suspect and maybe I’d get off the                           hook (110).

It is clear from this passage that Lionel is showing once again his sense of humor and is using a sarcastic tone when talking to the detective. He is now able to confront other people and is using a sarcastic tone when is talking. Hence, he has flourished into a confident man who is not afraid to say what he really thinks, even though when may sound bitter and arrogant from times to times.

After elucidating the mystery of Frank’s death, throwing five specific objects were the spark of his personal liberation. In fact, when he decided to throw Frank Minna’s and Julia’s gun,the doormen’s cell phone,Minna’s beeper and his right shoe are objects that served as a form of ritual in order to free himself from any association to the crime and to mark an end to the investigation: “ Barnabaileyscrewjuliaminna.” It was my [Lionel’s] final word on the subject” (303). Here, it shows clearly that Lionel is finally relieved and features his new life surrounded by his old friends, considering himself as a REAL detective with a heavy baggage of the past and self-discoveries. Finally, Mister Ed Northon I hope that after reading my vision for the film adaptation you have a perfect painting of  Lionel’s confidence evolution and that you learned a life lesson that you will never forget, people’s opinion about you does not define yourself, it can be misleading, but don’t be fooled as Julia says to Lionel,“ you were so crazy everyone thought you were stupid” (300).

Leila Bencherif

Work cited :

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


One thought on “Lionel’s puberty of confidence !

  1. This is a very good essay. What strikes me most is how detailed it is. It’s long, but each paragraph manages to say more and add new information. As a result, you manage to make some really profound statements about this novel. I think the sheer volume of quality analysis you’ve written here really shows how closely you’ve engaged with the novel. Very thorough work. Your ideas and analysis are first rate.

    The writing, as well, is better. I can tell you’ve toned it down somewhat, and it works. When you’re writing simply, your writing is very effective. There are many great sentences, but here’s one example:

    “It gives the impression that his tics are occupying and dominating such an important place in his character that it seems to choke all of his qualities.”

    This is a great sentence, and the use of the word “choke” is especially great. There are still some moments, though, where your language is too flowery. Hey, you should write in a way that pleases you, but just be aware that when you get too fancy, it’s tough to understand what you mean. For example:

    “From the exterior , it looks like a wilted rose tinted with insecurities and tics but with time and watering from the fountain of evolution the interior will be tinted with bright color of confidence.”

    Here, I just don’t understand what you’re saying.

    But, there are way more great sentences in her than unclear ones. Finally, try to get a handle on proper spacing for commas and periods. Look at any text for reference. You make simple errors with spacing that take away the greatness of the writing, which is a shame.

    Excellent work overall. You’ve clearly worked very hard on this and it’s terrific. Congratulations.


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