Many themes arise throughout the novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. One of the main themes which arise is the theme of Bildungsroman, which shows a sense of growth and development. It is a genre that depicts a youth who struggles toward maturity, forming a worldview or philosophy of life and leaving behind the concerns of adolescence. There is a clear sense that the character takes a series of formative steps towards adulthood and some kind of achievement. This can clearly be associated with the protagonist of the novel Lionel Essrog.
Lionel Essrog tries to find his true identity and place in society through past lifetime experiences that occurred. Lionel’s underlying conquest is to find where he belongs in society and that he is able to be as reliable as any other person even though he tries to find his identity by searching for his biological parents. As an orphan, Lionel did not have his own identity. He spent his life in St. Vincent’s home for boys without any family members. The closest people to family members that he had were Tony, Gilbert, and Danny, other orphans at the home.
As soon as the boys entered the moving company business, Lionel’s identity was created by Frank Minna. They began working for him for a few years before Frank had to leave with his brother Gerard. Before Frank left, he gave Lionel a book called Understanding Tourette’s. After he read the book, Lionel sought medical attention from the homes once-weekly visiting nurse to get help with his Tourette’s. Lionel says that “The chemicals slowed my brain down to a morose crawl, where a boot on my wheel of self. I might outsmart…. to twilight. ”(pg 83).
Taking away his Tourettic symptoms also took away from his true identity. Although Minna encouraged Lionel to dwindle his symptoms, he helped Lionel become a person well accepted in society where he could control some outbursts and tics. After being labeled a Minna man, Lionel was looked at as intimidating and when he had sudden outbursts and tics people thought he was crazy and stupid, but in reality Lionel was intelligent and tender. Once a Minna man, Lionel’s ability to gain his own identity was lost. He does everything that he is told to do and never thinks on his own.
Such loss of identity is described by this quote, “Minna Men wear suits. Minna Men drive cars. Minna Men listen to tapped lines. Minna Men stand behind Minna, hands in their pockets, looking menacing. Minna Men carry money. Minna Men pick up packages….. but Minna is dead. “(pg 90). After the death of Frank Minna, Lionel is able to step away from the fixed identity of him and start to create his own identity. Lionel began to create his own identity after Minna’s death, because in order to think like a detective he must actually be one and not a Minna man.
He began to think on his own and follow his own clues instead of taking any orders from his boss. He also begins to mature when he has a talk with Frank’s widow Julia who pretends to like Lionel. Motherless Brooklyn like many other novels has many themes throughout the book. One of the main or central themes is Bildungsroman. This is seen throughout the book as Lionel matures and finds his identity from childhood until now, when he becomes an adult and begins to start to form his own identity.