Lionel’s Evolution to Himself

Dear Mr. Edward Norton,

I have just received the pleasant news that you were looking to adapt to the big screen the novel by Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn. This novel happens to be one of my personal favorites and this is why I am writing to you today; I would like to share my ideas and visions for this film adaptation with you. I find that having somebody else’s input on a novel can provide a different angle and way of seeing this story, and sometimes can lead you to narrow the focus of the movie to the most important aspect of the novel. In this case, I found that what really appealed to the readers was Lionel’s character itself, and how it evolved throughout the book. The progression of Lionel as a person really marks this novel, because it is what allowed me to relate to him. The success of this film adaptation relies on the fact that we are able to relate to the main character in a way that we can identify to him.

In order to properly understand Lionel’s self-evolution, we need to thoroughly show the public how he was in the beginning of the novel. Lionel is depicted as being this very feeble person that lets everyone walk all over him basically. This is due to his Tourette’s, which he seems to define himself with. Lionel starts off as being this character that decided that he was going to let his whole life be governed by the simple fact that he has this particular condition. Tourette’s was not part of him, it was him: “It’s an itch at first. Inconsequential. But that itch soon a torrent behind a staining dam. Noah’s flood. That itch is my whole life” (2). Right from the very start of the novel, we can feel how Lionel’s relationship with his condition is strictly governing is whole life, rather than just being a part of who he is. This is an important aspect to highlight giving that further on in the novel, Lionel discovers that behind his Tourette’s lies his real self, which is the essence of this novel. In another way, he lets his Tourette’s influence his relationships with others as well. The other Minna Men in the novel treat Lionel according to his condition, rather than his personality. They identify him as being the guy with Tourette’s rather than Lionel, the person. They have a short temper with him most of the time giving that his condition is quite annoying: “My tics and obsessions kept the other Minna Men amused, but also wore them out, made them weirdly compliant and complicit” (5). This passage shows us that although his tics affected his relations with the Minna Men, they still did not treat him like he was mentally ill. This shows that although it drains their patience and energy, Lionel’s Tourette’s is what is making them more compliant; they most likely felt sorry for him and therefore pitied him. This is an important factor to identify when speaking of Lionel’s evolution, because his interactions with others will soon be based on a whole other factor than his disorder. This is why we need to highlight the fact that he based his life on his Tourette’s, which greatly affected his relationships with others. Throughout the novel, Lionel experiences some changes and becomes his true self, rather than being defined by his disorder.

Lionel’s relationship with Frank Minna is another important aspect, if not the most, throughout the novel when it comes to Lionel’s progression into his own self. It is only after his mentor’s death that Lionel truly awakens into the person that he was always meant to be:

Perhaps I’d been expecting that Minna’s absence would snuff the world, or at
least Brooklyn, out of existence. That a sympathetic dimming would occur. Instead I’d woken into the realization that I was Minna’s successor and avenger, that the city shone with clues. It seemed possible I was a detective on a case. (132)

This quote really tells us a lot about how Lionel’s changed, and this happens overnight. From what we have read from the start of the novel until Minna’s death, we could expect Lionel to react in a very different manner than he does. Instead of being sad and becoming extremely depressed, Lionel finds a new purpose. He now feels like he needs to find vengeance against the murderer of his lifelong friend and mentor. This gives him a new outtake on life and allows him to grow into the detective that he was meant to be. He has a new goal and he will achieve it all on his own, without the help of the other Minna Men, which really shows how he has grown into an independent detective. At one point in the novel, Lionel really shows us this growth when he neglects to share some valuable information as to Minna’s murderer in order to follow this lead all by himself: “I remembered the name Irving, but didn’t say anything” (95). The last passage really depicts how Lionel distanced himself from the rest of the Minna Men and how he is developing and forging his own new self. He deliberately withholds information from the other men so that he can explore this lead on his own. Lionel also shows his development through his dialogues with others; his way of talking to people really changed: “I’m a guy who needs to know things, Walter, and I’m in a hurry” (133). This passage really shows how Lionel’s interactions have been greatly influenced by Minna’s death. He has found a new self confidence, which derives from the fact that he now identifies as the new Frank Minna. These passages show us how Lionel has experienced some changes for the better, in the contrary of what we would have believed based on the person that he was at the start of the novel.

Another relationship that greatly influenced his development is the one he had with Kimmery. Only when he was with Kimmery did Lionel experience acceptance and true love for who he was. Kimmery gave Lionel a sort of confidence boost, given that she accepted him and appreciated him regardless of his disorder: “No, but I mean strange in a good way” (219).  This really helped Lionel into learning how to love himself, not despite his condition, but because of the unique attribute it brought him. He learned to live with and embrace his Tourette’s, which he now sees as being part of him rather than defining him. Another positive thing that Kimmery brought Lionel was the fact that when he was around her his ticcing was significantly reduced: “[Lionel] wasn’t ticcing as much, for a couple of reasons. The first was Kimmery herself, still an unprecedented balm to me this late in the day” (211). She seemed to appease him and make him feel comfortable, which translated into a reduction of his tics and obsessions. This is significant, because through Lionel’s self development, Kimmery has helped him find the love he had for himself by loving him herself, which resulted in Lionel finding some control over his tics through the simple fact that he learned not to care about them as much. Although it did not quite work out between Kimmery and Lionel in the end, she still had some great influence on him and showed him that loving himself for who he is rather than trying to change or oppress something that he cannot, he should learn to love it.

In sum, Lionel’s character should be the focus of this film adaptation should be on the evolution of Lionel’s character through the relationships he acquires and loses. The loss of his mentor deeply changes him since he feels the need to avenge his murder and to fulfill his role as the head of the Minna Men, which results in Lionel growing into a confident and autonomous person. Meeting Kimmery and having her be a part of his life also helps Lionel define himself as a person. He learns through her to love himself regardless of his condition, which is only part of him and does not define him as a whole. In the end, Lionel finally finds peace once he avenges the death of Frank:

You can go back pretending if you like. I know I will, though 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. (310)

After killing his mentor’s murderer, his own brother, Lionel goes back to being only a simple part within the Minna Men and Danny ends up being in charge of the group. Also, Lionel loses his relationship with Kimmery as she moved back in with her ex-boyfriend. One would think that Lionel is left right back where he started, but when you closely evaluate the development and evolution of this character throughout the story, you can see that he is left with self-love and peace, which significantly changes who he is and how he behaves. Mr. Norton, Lionel’s evolution is what should be highlighted throughout the movie, since it really is the main content of this book. The story does not matter, the character does. His development is what he is left with, which shows the importance of the angle employed while adapting this book to the big screen. I hope you will take my advice into consideration.


Yours truly,

Savana Di Quinzio


One thought on “Lionel’s Evolution to Himself

  1. This is a very strong essay. The thing that stands out most to me is your writing. You’re a very good writer. You express yourself clearly, genuinely, and in your own voice. Your writing is very easy to read, and that’s a hard thing to do. Go forward with the confidence that you are an excellent writer.

    In your opening, you talk about how much you liked this novel, and that is apparent by the excellent way that you discuss it. Your reading of Lionel’s character is nuanced and complex. You manage to balance a lot of different ideas in order to paint a portrait of a character who is very human. I especially like the many contradictions you point out (it didn’t work out with Kimmery, but that experience still changed him, for example. There are many more).

    All in all, this shows excellent engagement with the novel. You’ve also handed the mechanical elements mostly very well. This is polished and clearly the result of a lot of hard work. You should be quite proud of what you’ve accomplished here. It’s terrific.


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