Is Miss Brill a typical example of an unmarried woman?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The character of Miss Brill of the short story by Katherine Mansfield Miss Brill is meant to portray someone who is atypical. The evidence for this lies in the theme of the story: How loneliness permeates the lives of some individuals who, for some reason, have not had enough opportunities to expose themselves.

Furthermore, the characterization that Mansfield chooses for Miss Brill are intended to produce in the reader a sense of compassion towards this very old-fashioned and odd woman. However, Mansfield also achieves that the reader feels awkward in the presence of a lady who is intensely devoted to a weird-looking fox fur neck fur which in its description alone is arguably odd.

For once she calls it her "little rogue". Secondly, she awards this inanimate object a form of affection that typical people would render another living being. The eyes of the fur are described as "dim little eyes" along with a nose that "wasn't all that firm"- which entails that the neck fur may be falling apart. To bring closure to the "circle" that the neck fur makes around Miss Brill's neck, it is worth mentioning with certain apprehension that, when she wears it, the fur "bites its tail just by her left ear,".

Mansfield does not lay so much importance to Miss Brill's unmarried status, but it does help color her character because it brings out the stereotypical sketch of the "unmarried governess" who travels abroad and leaves her country only to live alone across the continent.

Yet, Miss Brill is nowhere aware it seems of her loneliness. She has that horrid neck fur to keep her company. She identifies with it, and that is where the pathos of the story is found: In the fact that Miss Brill has become a recluse. However, nowhere in the story does it hint at the fact that it is because she is single that she is a recluse. In fact, Mansfield tends to focus on Miss Brill's own awkward personality as the reason behind her loneliness.


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