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“Miss Brill” by Kathryn Mansfield details an incident in the life of a spinster teacher who lives in in a French resort town. Written in the 1920s, the brief characterization presents a lonely woman who longs for human contact and connection. Every Sunday, Miss Brill goes to the park for a band concert in hopes of striking up conversations with the other attendees. Miss Brill also “people watches” and often makes judgments based on their clothing and actions.
Using the third person limited omniscient point of view, the ultimate characterization is elicited by watching the story through the eyes of the protagonist. Sundays to Miss Brill are the most important days of the weeks. Her bench in the park awaits her, and her companions are the strangers that share her bench.
The author uses symbolism to convey the prevalent theme of loneliness. In this time period, there was no stigma in wearing a real fur piece even with the actual head attached. The fur that Miss Brill lovingly pulls out to wear represents Miss Brill herself. Like Miss Brill, the fur piece has seen better days and is rather old. It needs care and attention, just as Miss Brill needs the connection to another human being.
“She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed life back into the dim little eyes.”
When the young people make fun of the stole, to Miss Brill, they have insulted her person as well.
The protagonist’s name---Miss Brill---brings to mind the stiffness of an Englishwoman and one who lives a solitary life. Her first name is never mentioned because she has no one that would use it---she is friendless.
The band who plays every Sunday symbolically becomes Miss Brill’s family. They are always there and never let her down. Without anyone else to care for her, Miss Brill imagines that the band awaits her coming and will wonder if she does not appear.
The imagery employed by the author sets the tone for the story initially. Miss Brill sees the day as brilliant and fine but slightly chilly. This enables her to wear her beloved fur piece. The descriptions of the scenes in the park bring the story to life; and the reader feels as though he is sitting alongside of Miss Brill as she observes the events of the afternoon.
Little children ran among them, swooping and laughing; little boys with big white silk bows under their chins, little girls, little French dolls, dressed up in velvet and lace. And sometimes a tiny staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open from under the trees, stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down "flop…"
Through the imagery, the reader can see that Miss Brill makes herself a part of the dramatic scenes of life.
After hearing the remarks by the young couple, Miss Brill finally realizes that she is really not a part of Sunday events or really anything else. Her sad life is built on fantasy and self-deception.
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