Lionel Essrog

Nadav Sarid



The novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem takes the reader through the Journey of an unconventional protagonist. Lionel Essrog does not live an easy life; he is faced with daily challenges, however these are only heightened because he has a disability. Tourette’s is a syndrome that “causes people who have it to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics.”- (Tourette Canada). Tourette’s is a difficult disability to live with. Lionel encounters many hardships due to his illness. In addition, he is a pessimist. He constantly is criticizing himself and he has low self-confidence. Lionel is the hero of the novel and although he may suffer from Tourette’s, there is more to him than his disease.

Lionel Essrog allows his ticks to define who he is. Tourette’s is a hard disability to live with, that being said Lionel makes it more difficult for him self by allowing his Tourette’s to define who he is as a person. Lionel dials and hangs up on a Essrog that he had searched in the phone book and states the following later, “I would…never show up at their homes, never accuse them of being related to a free human freak show, never properly introduce myself.” (69). By calling himself a free human freak show, he sees himself as an individual who is constantly surrounded by strangers. They are waiting for something exciting and unpredictable to happen. His body can explode with a random gesture or verbal vomit at any moment. He has allowed what other people call him to have a significant impact on his self-esteem that he starts to believe these hateful words. At times when Lionel struggling with his confidence level. “’Tellmethefuckingtall!’ I was like a toddler devising a tantrum to keep his parents from fighting.” (75). Calling your self a toddler is an extremely degrading self-claim; he is saying that he has no self-control. He gets down on him self for something he cannot be held responsible for. Once again we see another encounter where Lionel describes him self in such a way that can only hurt how he views him self. “I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. I’ve got Tourette’s.”(1). All these characteristics that he is describing are outcasts, people who are louder and bring attention upon them for a living. Lionel views him self as an outcasts and we know this because of this description he is giving, on top of that we know he blames his Tourettes for this, he makes that very clear with “I’ve got Tourette’s” Lionel is stuck with an unfortunate disability however he makes matters worse for him self by getting down on him self for it. He allows this disability to embody who he is.

Lionel is significantly smarter then he allows him self to believe he is. He believes that since he has a disability that he is dumb, however over the course of the novel, we are shown just how intelligent Lionel can be. When Lionel tries to explain to the detective interviewing him that he has Touretts’s the detective assumes that “Tourette” is a person, “’Tourette’s is the shitman!’, ‘can you lead me to him’? ‘ No, no, theres no Tourette,’ ‘Don’t worry,’ said the detective, talking down to me. ‘I wont tell him who gave out his name.’” (110). Without even realizing it, Lionel had just given the detective a false tip; he led him to believe the Tourette is a person who was involved in the murder. It may have been unintentional however Lionel does not give him self-credit for leading the detective to search in the wrong direction. While the detective and Lionel are walking, Lionel leads them to Zeod’s Lionel’s sandwich restaurant that he goes to, this ends up working in Lionel’s favor. As they walk in the restaurant Zeod saw Lionel and says “Crazyman! How are you my friend?” This helps Lionel out immensely, the detective now hears Zeod call him Crazyman and this changes his report. He is now unsure if he should be taking Lionel seriously as he just heard him be called Crazyman. Once something that Lionel does not give him self-proper credit for.

Lionel’s humor in the novel was one of the most entertaining factors; it came in many different forms. Lionel’s humor shows that he is a well-rounded character with many sides to him. The audience was constantly humored by his Tourette’s taking over his verbal control, this is not something that someone should laugh at however in the middle of a serious conversation when Lionel yells “Dickweed” its hard not to chuckle. Lionel just being a very funny character also humored us, a specific scene in the novel where four strange men kidnap Lionel, he manages to bring such a light and entertaining humor to the scene that makes it my personal favorite scene of the novel. When Lionel realizes that the men who kidnapped him are amateurs he starts to tease them. “All four of their sunglasses still bore price tags, dangling fluorescent orange ovals reading $6.99! I reached out and batted at Pimples price tag. He turned away, and my finger hooked the earpiece and jerked the shades off his face, into his lap.” (146) To think this is moments after he is dragged into a car by four random men he has never seen before is hilarious and reckless. He is in not intimidated nor scared by what could possibly happen to him. When Lionel and Tony are being interrogated by a detective in their own car Lionel still manages to make this serious humorous. The detective and Tony were going back on forth with one another and Lionel steps in and starts shouting “Uncle Batman, Unclebailey Blackman! Barnamum Bat-a-potamus!” (191). This is a scene where the Tony and Lionels future are at stake yet his Tourette’s ticks manage to make this scene humorous. The audience shouldn’t find this scene particularly funny however Lionel’s ticks make the audience laugh. Lionel’s humor comes at times and in different circumstances. Regardless of how his humor is displayed, Lionel’s character is one that extremely entertaining to follow.

In the film making process of this novel I believe that the most crucial part of making it a successful film is casting the right actor to play the role of Lionel. I believe that the actor who would embrace this role to its fullest potential would be Tom Hanks, I feel this way because of the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump is a film produced by Robert Zemeckis that display’s a slow-witted man and his journey to an extremely successful life. Tom Hanks had done an excellent job embracing this role and believe that he would fit the role of Lionel perfectly. Both the movies and protagonist share several themes, both embark on the journey of life for someone who has a disability and both reach there goal of there scripts in there own ways. I believe that Tom Hanks would be the best suit for this role seeing as he already has some experience playing the role of someone with a mental disability. His skills would transfer over very well allowing Motherless Brooklyn to be an extremely successful film as Forest Gump was.


One thought on “Lionel Essrog

  1. A nice look at some of the different facets of Lionel’s character. You do a nice job of looking at specific words and phrases in the citations you provide. There certainly is more to Lionel’s character than meets the eye.


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