Thefollowing essay will explore the themes of home and homelessness in ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Both novels depictthe different experiences of migration due to diaspora according to gender. Asa result, this has slightly changed the city; a focus of losing a home andhaving to make a home of their own. A homeis considered by some, as a structure one resides in permanently, while othersconsider a home to be a physical household with the company of family members.
Aplace one can dwell in, and consists of feelings of comfort and sense ofbelonging. Both novels explore the theme of homelessness as both protagonists’leave ‘home’ to travel to another place. However despite having a place to livein, home was far from it. MonicaAli was born in Bangladesh, and later migrated to Bolton, England with her family.Brick Lane is partially inspired byher own life. In an interview with the Telegraph, Ali voiced she, weaved ‘together of different strands from herchildhood.
‘ (Brown, Mick) Ali is interested in ”the idea of takingplaces that seem familiar and making them new’ (Brown, Mick), hence the reasonfor choosing Brick Lane, as she can take a ‘slice from London’ and embed a newfeel to it.Brick Lane focuses on the life of Nazneen and how she adapts to the lifein a foreign place (England) she comes to build her ‘home’ in. Nazneen who isoriginally from Bangladesh follows her much older husband to London after aloveless marriage. This is the normality of Bangladesh citizens due to thelarge number of Muslims residing there. In the novel, men consider diaspora tofind better jobs that pay well and take their wives with them. Most of the moneythey earn is usually sent back to their families in Bangladesh and theremaining is spent on bills and what little is left is set aside to save up toreturn to their homeland.ColmToibin was born in Ireland, later travelled to America.
Where he felt ‘desolateand abandoned’. The sense of longing for ‘home’ is heavily portrayed in Brooklyn. During an interview, Toibinexpressed he often felt “At times he foundAmerica a strange, alien, hostile place.” (Toibin, Colm).Brooklyn focuses on the life of Ellis ofleaving Ireland and how she discovers a life in Brooklyn, America. A once in alife time opportunity to go to America was granted to her. Her departure isdifferent to the usual migration.
Individuals, who migrate to another country,usually go to work and are never seen again. Toibin introduces diaspora in Brooklyn. Ellis has a room to her-self after herbrothers left Ireland to “Birmingham tofind work” (page 26). Diaspora is illustrated through Father Flood,as he mentions Brooklyn is “just like Ireland. They’re full of Irish” (page37), which immediately emphasises how searching jobs in other countries is favourable,as beautiful images of being in a homely environment while earning money forhome sounds perfect.
Bothnovels portray the protagonists being exiled from their ‘home’ where theirfamilies reside in. In Brick Lane, Nazneen had to leave reluctantlydue to an arrange marriage to an ‘old’ man, after which she followed herhusband to another country, “They would marry and he would take her back toEngland with him” (page 3). This is a common practice in Bangladesh, where thewoman would only follow man. They are the ‘subordinate to men by God’s will anddesign – (Cohen-Mor 133) therefore choose to believe women are suited for housework and men intellectual work.
Similarly,in Brooklyn, Ellis had no choice uponher departure as “Rose had organized so precisely” (page 4). Alike Nazneen,Ellis’s future was decided for her by her family. She had no say in her future,she just followed “it had somehow been tacitly arranged that Ellis would go toAmerica” (page38), which suggest much thought and planning had gone intopreparing the departure. Ellis’s family had thoroughly balanced the consequencesand advantages of sending another child abroad.
Toibin and Ali both portrayed acharacter that has no voice. However, both authors hint, the protagonists fromboth novels want be able to make the final decision of something that majorlyaffects their future but, ultimately they bow to the breadwinners – Rose/ MrsLacey and Hamid. Toibin illustrates Eilis’sconnection to ‘home’ shifting and changes in some ways; this could be a resultof her constant struggle to come to terms with her living in two differentplaces, in both her physical self and mental self. This is a result ofbeing so far from home and being unable to make a new ‘home’ for herself. Ellisfelt she may have been the ‘wrong sister’ to leave for America.
Due to the factthat her older sister Rose “was more glamorous every year, and while she hadseveral boyfriends” (page 19). This illustrates a rather socially activeindividual who would most likely not struggle to settle into a new environment,away from home. A homecan be in different forms.
A family makes a house, a home. Toibin illustrates asense of impending loss as she ‘struggles with the unfamiliar’ place, asEllis constantly remembers her own sacrifice and not just her sisters – shealso loses her mother. Therefore leaving a member of family behind, would meanleaving another home.
Ellis not only leaves her home behind, but also leavesbehind the woman who made the house into a home. Toibin shows how hard it isfor Ellis to see her mother lose yet another child, as the boys have scatteredaround England and she is only left with her daughters; “it’ll kill me when she Ellis goes” whichelucidates the reluctance of Mrs Lacey of letting go of her child. This isfurther confirmed by her sullen expression when discussing the opportunity “‘itmight be very dangerous’ her mother said, eyes fixed on the floor”. Talkingwhile looking other places can be a sign of dismissal, as it shows one tryingto avoid eye contact which would further a conversation. Nazneen alsoleaves behind her mother and family. Leaving her family behind to go to anotherhouse and barely see them again was something she knew would happen eventuallythis is due to the misogynistic views held in smaller countries. Nazneen’shusband reminds her ‘women don’t go outside’ in Bangladesh. Therefore ifNazneen were to marry someone who resides in Bangladesh, she would not be ableto visit them as often as she would like, just as she is unable to visit themfrom Brick Lane, London.
Unfortunately such views are still very common andnothing has changed over the years. It is important to note Nazneen leaving herfamily behind portrays her leaving her ‘home’ behind due to the fact that hermother always taught her and comforted her. She lost her home the second timewhen her mother was found “leaning low over the sacks of rice in the store hut,staked through the heart by a spear” (C2, P56)Nazneenand Ellis both leave behind a family, which they later permanently lose todeath. In Brooklyn, Mrs Lacey writesa letter in which she plainly evokes “she died in the night in her sleep” (Page253).
Alike Nazneen, Ellis permanently loses her emotional home. Her decisionto return to Ireland could be a sign of Ellis submitting to her emotionalbreakdown of losing yet another form of home, it can be seen as life simplyslipping away and Ellis is unable to do anything, just as she was unable tohave a say when she was exiled from Ireland. In Brick Lane, Nazneen loses her only son Raqib as well. An emotionalturmoil is what Nazneen went through. Refusing to believe her child was gone,”Dont worry.
They won’t take long. They’ll give him back to us soon.” Nazneenshows denial towards Raqibs death, this is very normal for a parent. This wouldbe the second family member Nazneen loses in the novel; loss becomes aprominent theme, as Nazneen is struggling mentally. Personally coming from aBangladeshi family, a common saying in Bangladesh is ‘children are the lastingredient to a happy home’. This therefore shows Nazneen has yet again lostpart of her home. Bothnovels explore the theme of freedom and imprisonment. Nazneen gains both, freedomfrom her home in which he is groomed to become a house wife, which is pointedout when she discusses her marriage potential with her father “Abba, it is goodthat you have chosen my husband.
I hope I can be good wife, like Amma” (page3).Nazneen is taught to only listen to her husband and look after the household byher family in Bangladesh. Due to being brought up seeing her father keeping hermother in the confinements of the household only, Nazneen follows only that.However upon the arrival to England, Nazneen has a greater insight into howlife is different when compared to Bangladesh and its Misogynistic views.Nazneen was able to escape such an imprisonment, only to be introduced to newprison. This leaves her bewildered and dismayed.
Ali simply portrays Nazneen’sprison, “The lamb curry was prepared. She hadmade it last night with tomatoes and new potatoes” (page19) which highlightsNazneen’s only job. Bothprotagonists form a new home in their host countries. “The conflation of home, as both security and prison therefore islimited identity” (Dr Hossain Al Mamun).
Nazneen has assimilated the structure of the once host country and Bangladeshforms the part of her fond memories and instead feeling of unfamiliarity. This leadsto recognition of the desire to claim domestic space as fraction of belonging;the necessity to stay assertive about the final decision “I can’t go with you”(page 626). This juxtaposes her first statement of submitting to her father’sdecision. “Nazneen expresses the need for a state of order echoing her owngrowing sense of stability and reflecting the mentality of one no longerlocating themselves elsewhere.”Ellis isportrayed as a young girl who matures into a woman and achieves an identity.This is a result of becoming metaphorically ‘homeless’, after being sent toAmerica. Ellis is left to find her own home due to leaving her real ‘home’ inIreland, through which she adopts a new identity. Due to her new home andidentity, Ellis decides to leave Ireland once again.
Ellis is aware Mrs Laceywill be very lonely but she is also aware of the newly formed home she hasestablished in Brooklyn, despite its bittersweet thoughts of uncertainty as shequestions her decision. Bangladeshis represented as a society that persistently punishes Hasina for wanting freedomof choice. Which she felt eloping with her love was the only way she couldestablish this. However, for Nazneen who also chose freedom in England, wherethe society allows her to discover and assert her autonomy.
Ali elucidates howsociety has a major affect on an individual’s ability to feel comfortable andadopt their own identity and be comfortable in their own home. Inconclusion, both Ali and Toibin successfully portray two individual’s leavingone home to form another. It is unfortunate that the protagonists from both thenovels have no say in their departure, and therefore know nothing about the newenvironment. In Brick Lane, Nazneenarrives to London with only knowledge of two words ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’,which shows her struggle to cope in a new place she cannot communicate in.
Similarly in Brooklyn, Ellis feelsout of place upon arriving at Brooklyn despite having no language barrier. Onecould think both protagonists should feel comfortable as they settle in anIrish and Bengali dominated area. Despite the rough start in a new environmentboth protagonists tackle every hardship along the journey such as death and strugglewith identity; they both establish a new home and choose their new identityover their old self. Ali and Toibin tried to elucidate the necessity to havefaith in ones new identity and to have confidence a new home can be formeddespite the struggle to settle. Ellis and Nazneen both lose the home they grewup in and shared memories with their families in, after leaving the countrythey also lose the members who made their paternal house into a home, butdespite the struggle they form a new home which they do not intend to lose.