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What are Miss Brill's circumstances in Mansfield's "Miss Brill"?

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kabayan | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 26, 2011 at 9:19 AM via web

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What are Miss Brill's circumstances in Mansfield's "Miss Brill"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 26, 2011 at 12:58 PM (Answer #1)

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Miss Brill's circumstances are simple and modest. And elderly lady, she lives alone and has few  possessions, but one such is her fur necklet. These were prized by their owners and signified some small level of elegance and social attainment. Thus she may have had a pleasant social life at one time, complete with a gentleman suitor or two--all this may be deduced from the little fox taken out of its box for a special outing in the park "because the Season had begun."

We are not told her circumstances in detail. We rely more on her actions and inner dialogue, though her emotions and thoughts are expressed throughout: "still soundlessly singing, still with that trembling smile, Miss Brill prepared to listen."

The scant description of her living circumstances suggests the presence of a closet, as she "had taken [the fox] out of its box" for a dusting (from a long retirement as in a closet) and a brushing. The description also gives us a "red eiderdown," another clue to a pleasant past lifestyle as an eiderdown (as in eiderdown comforter) is the prize of duck down comforters since Eider ducks have the most coveted feathers.

She goes to the park each Sunday to be in association with other people. She has the impression that the people who anonymously join her there are of a different sort from her and are as cheered by her welcome presence as she is by theirs while she surreptitiously listens in on their conversations. In this way she vicariously shares their lives with them. Her delusion of a constant focal point in her life, a life on pause, as it were, is shattered when young people speak of her as being reprhesible and unwanted. And this occurring while in her good mood and in the welcome company of her fox necklet, which gives off just a hint of confusion and sadness:

What has been happening to me?" said the sad little eyes .. . [and] breathed, something light and sad–no, not sad, exactly–something gentle

Whatever the further details of her circumstances were when she left home, they are vastly different when she returned after leaving the park. She doesn't stop at the bakers. She enters her single, dark, cupboard-like room and sits on the luxurious red eiderdown "for a long time," before quickly removing the necklet and returning it to its box. The gentle crying she thinks she hears as she closes the lid may be a transference of her own crying over her dream of sociability and continued innocence being cruelly crushed or it may be the metaphorical tears of the fox who weeps for the loss of a pleasant, simple life.

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