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Katherine Mansfield's 'Miss Brill'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 988 words Published: 9th May 2017

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Miss Brill can be characterized as an idealist. Throughout the story she envisions the lives people around her based on their attire. By doing this, Miss Brill then characterizes them on what they ought to be rather than actually knowing the individuals. The reader is invited to share in her cheerful Sunday afternoon due to this story being written in the point of view of a third-person limited omniscient narrator. However, by Mansfield having the narrator in third-person, she is also allowing the reader not only observe how Miss Brill views these characters, but also how her imagination does not allow her to relate other characters to herself. “They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even-even cupboards!” (Mansfield, 1922, p. 73). The interesting thing to note is that Miss Brill essentially describes herself and her living arrangements when observing these people. How she sees these other people in the gardens is how others view her. Mansfield, here, situates the conflict of “man vs. self”. Miss Brill cannot come to terms that she is like these people that she is judging. Her daydreaming has interfered with what she is seeing, thus not allowing her true life to be revealed.

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Katherine Mansfield also orchestrates an underlying tone with the title of her story. The diction in title of, “Miss Brill” implies the character’s solitude; never becoming a Mrs. Brill. Also upon further reading the text the reader observes that the character of Miss Brill is an old woman, especially towards the end when the young couple refers to her as a “stupid old thing”. Therefore, her status as never being married plus her age allows the reader to feel sympathetic, or even pity, for Miss Brill for never sharing her happiness with a significant other. Although her colorful language illustrates happiness, it also proves that she is trapped in her own dream world and will not accept anything that may disrupt her happiness. “She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad-no, not sad, exactly-something gentle seemed to move in her bosom,” (Mansfield, p blah blah). Miss Brill refuses to realize her own issues if it means her Sunday “play” will be ruined. The “tingling” in her arms and hands can represent that she suffers from arthritis, similar to the sadness in her bosom representing that she suffers from depression. Her idealism tells her the show must go on and refuses to let her take care of herself, deceiving her, and proving potentially fatal to her in the long run.

When describing the fur, Miss Brill is seen personifying the fox fur which actually has no life. It is simply an inanimate object that Miss Brill has given life to in her imagination. Using words such as “dear” and “little rogue” to describe the fur illustrates that she genuinely treats her fur as if it were a pet to her. However, the truth is that although Miss Brill treats her fur as a living animal capable of returning her love, it is nothing more than the skin of an animal; idealizing this item in her fantasies. The fur leaving the box every Sunday, symbolizes Miss Brill leaving her cupboard-like home and in essence, leaving the hardships of reality as well. Similarly, when Miss Brill places the fur back into the box it represents her realizing that the show in her head is over and she must come to terms with the truth of her surroundings.

Miss Brill even goes as far as saying that when she places the fur back into the box, she “heard something crying”. This statement can also prove that even once the real world, in the form of the young couple, has forced her to come back to reality, she is still willing to lose herself in her idealism of this fur being a living creature. Furthermore, the young couple presents an irony in the story of Miss Brill. Miss Brill labels the boy and girl as the, “hero and heroine” (p. 75) respectively. While Miss Brill sees the young couple as the hero and heroine of her fictional play, the reader can surmise that the couple’s words save Miss Brill from being trapped in her imagination.

Katherine Mansfield, through several literary elements, presents complex ideas on the Miss Brill’s character. Mansfield gives Miss Brill a fascinating view of her Sundays with the use of vivid imagery. From the beginning of the story, Miss Brill sees a, “brilliantly fine…blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardin Publiques,” (p.72). Miss Brill’s imagination exaggerates the beautiful scenes and gives her a childlike wonder as she embraces the scenes around her. Therefore Mansfield wants the reader to share in Miss Brill’s wonder and sympathize with her from the start. However this same childlike wonder proves her to be weak. As soon as Miss Brill overhears negative comments against her, her whole spirit is destroyed. Her mind has not prepared her for the cruelty and adversity of the real world. In the end, Mansfield providing Miss Brill with the appealing and vibrant way of looking at the world sets her up to fail. Here is another way Mansfield makes the reader view Miss Brill. Miss Brill’s naivety proves to be her hubris because she chooses to be ignorant to the cruelty in people. Nonetheless, Mansfield chooses to remain objective and is neither for Miss Brill nor for the young couple. Miss Brill is left in her cupboard-like room at the end of the day, presumably crying, but at the same time, Mansfield decides not to end her life solely because the curtains have finally closed on her daydream.

Katherine Mansfield


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