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Immigrant Experience in “Brooklyn” and “Instructions to All Persons” Books Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2019

People have differing reasons as to what may make them relocate from one place to another. Majority of the immigrants arrive at decisions to move to foreign lands in search of better opportunities, in terms of education and better employment terms amongst other reasons. During this process of movement, people have the capacity to transfer with them various experiences to their new habitats.

However, many may emphasize that, for a better existence in the new environments, immigrants need only to remember what may help them to settle and adapt to the new environment.

However, people subscribe to diverse beliefs. Instructing one to forget some certain deeply ingrained roots may pose a mega dilemma to many emigrants. It is with this line of view that this paper finds it vital to scrutinize the development of the theme of forgetting and remembering in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and Instructions to All Persons by Inada.

In Brooklyn, Eilis is a less glamorous and a young character. At the time the reader encounters her first, she is living in Ireland within a small grocery store. In an endeavor to improve her future, her family attempts to gather funds for relocating her to Brooklyn in the United States. In this new land, she can acquire better pay and other myriad of opportunities.

However, the United States is a place where she seems isolated from the people she has known in her life. Being in this place means that she has to erase her public (cultural memory) constructed by her experiences in Ireland, and instead re-feed this space with new information. This means that she has to forget her culture to learn the new territorial culture: the American culture.

This would make her coexistence and articulation in the American society a smooth sail. However, this was not the case. As Toibin puts it, “She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor…Nothing meant anything” (56).

This perhaps best exemplifies the close link between public memory and individual memory. Arguably, the reasons as to why she could not articulate well with the new territory inhabitants are that the forces that shaped Eilis (cultural forces), which served to give her identity, were not congruent or rather compatible with what she met in America.

The theme of forgetting and remembering in this context presents a matter that is afflicted by immense tensions. On one account, immigrants need forget their native identities and learn to adopt the ways of live of the native inhabitants of the new areas, which they attempt to colonize. On the other account, they need to recall their roots, as they define them. The failure to forget eminently has a cost.

Like in case of Eilis, she feels being a ghost within the working environment. This is perhaps because she was already used to working and interacting with people only of her Irish origin. She thus did not have the aspects of cultural diversity pre-constructed within her memory.

Consequently, it should sound appropriate to forget about her originality in such contexts such as the ones involving work environment interrelationships for her to achieve a better goal: being productive. Critically, this suggests inculcation of highly debatable concept of selective memory.

Toibin develops the theme of forgetting and remembering by presenting characters with mixed emotions about their actions and beliefs. Where things turn out against characters’ anticipations, it is somewhat ample to forget, if at all, that life has to move on without haunts.

Forgetting is a thing accomplished voluntarily. Eilis, for instance, is so disturbed when she contemplates that she has to canoe the waters and depart from the people that she loves most. She is relieved when she overhears her mother respond to a friend, “Oh, it will kill me when she goes” (Toibin 98). Reminiscence of past life is a critical contribution to arriving at critical decisions.

Elis is perhaps fully aware of this when Tobin informs the reader that “Elis boards the liner for America, an irrevocable step that her mother, her sister and Elis herself might never have wished her to make had they thought it through” (Toibin 126).

Perhaps what hinders immigrants from forgetting their past to leave according to the norms they encounter in the foreign lands is because life in the foreign land has sweet memoirs of life back at the native homes.

America is full of people who are detached from their homes, many of them being immigrants who made daring and yet challenging decisions to part from their people and forget their cultures to constitute the single American culture. However, as Eilis stands out, she is not of this type by her making. She adds to the list of many women who could not forget about their homes and families and yet they could not plainly talk about it.

Anonymity is not anything to console Eilis. During the time that she encounters Tony, an Italian-American, her instincts authorize her to forget her roots. Life moves on between her and Tony. She consoles herself to forget home and the people she left behind. When her family calls her back to Enniscorthy, she remembers what she had left behind. Tony now seems like “part of a dream from which she had woken” (Toibin 189).

On the other hand, Eilis is well aware that had she been in New York, Enniscorthy would have turned out as a hazy or rather strange dream. In this context, the theme of forgetting and remembering is evident based on the experiences. What sounds subtle to remember or forget is subject to the nature of the experience.

In “Instructions to All Persons” by Inada’s, the theme of remembering and forgetting is eloquently evident. The literary work revolves around what the author remembers in his lifetime experiences. Writing entails attempting to map what one sees with what he/she thinks. One sees the things that attract his/her attention enormously reflected in the literal work.

“Instructions to All Persons” begins with a description of the author’s walk through Portland, Oregon. In historic terms, the Portland walk constituted an area in which the Japanese hailed soon after the war ended. The African Americans finally settled here. It is also the place engulfed by fatal floods in 1948. Again, a vast number of Japanese went to jail in 1942 in that area.

With this lime light, the book presents people’s memories as only to encompass those things or events that have acted to encompass those things that inculcate a negative sense of well being. Yet, people need to forget these things.

The tension between forgetting and remembering is conspicuous in Instructions to All Persons. How could Japanese people imprisoned in Portland in 1992 possibly forget this experience? Think of the document popularly known as “instructions to all persons of Japanese Ancestry” (Inada 5) signed on 6th may 1942.

A mention of this document merely serves to remind the Japanese American remnants about the period in history when their ancestors were required to avail themselves to the “control civil stations”. Inada writes, “Let us take what we can for the occasion…Ancestry” (Inada 7). This statement creates recognition of originality and brings into attention a crucial experience of the people belonging to the Japanese ancestry.

In this context, perhaps the notion of cultural or public memory becomes significant in development of the theme of remembering. It is the sense of belonging that is described by an experience that gives people a sense of belonging to a smaller group isolated from the bigger group.

Whether one records or transmits them orally from one culture to the next or in the form of images and old maps, certain common experiences inculcate a spirit of empathy. This spirit acts create to those people sharing common experiences a sense of oneness. Important still, these memoirs serve to invoke people’s memories and hence can start to reminiscent those critical characteristics that bond them together unison.

Every immigrant has a story to tell about his or her experience in the foreign land. Many are the situations that such immigrants would opt to and try to their level best to forget the challenges that they go through in the foreign land in an attempt carry on with life. This means that they try to remember only what they think gives them the energy to endure challenges.

While doing these, it may be possible to forget some things characterizing their making, which are different from the making of the people they live with in foreign nations.

However, anything that provokes their memory hence reminding them about their originality will always make them remember what they may not want. Brooklyn and Instructions to All Persons represent tensions between remembering and forgetting. None of them is easy for immigrants such as Eilis.

Works Cited

Inada, Lawson. Instructions to All Persons. Los Angeles, LA: Coffee House Press, 1993. Print. Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print.

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"Immigrant Experience in "Brooklyn" and "Instructions to All Persons" Books." IvyPanda, 3 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/immigrant-experience-in-brooklyn-and-instructions-to-all-persons-books/.

1. IvyPanda. "Immigrant Experience in "Brooklyn" and "Instructions to All Persons" Books." July 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/immigrant-experience-in-brooklyn-and-instructions-to-all-persons-books/.


IvyPanda. "Immigrant Experience in "Brooklyn" and "Instructions to All Persons" Books." July 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/immigrant-experience-in-brooklyn-and-instructions-to-all-persons-books/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Immigrant Experience in "Brooklyn" and "Instructions to All Persons" Books." July 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/immigrant-experience-in-brooklyn-and-instructions-to-all-persons-books/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Immigrant Experience in "Brooklyn" and "Instructions to All Persons" Books'. 3 July.

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