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What is the nature  of Ms Brill's character in "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield? 

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ztang | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 29, 2011 at 7:44 AM via web

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What is the nature  of Ms Brill's character in "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield? 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 16, 2013 at 12:27 AM (Answer #1)

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Katherine Mansfield brings to life a lonely, spinster.  In “Miss Brill,” the protagonist does not engage with anyone. In her mind she shares her Sundays with the other people who come to the park to experience the band concert.  It is Paris in the 1920s, and Miss Brill is all alone.

The narration is third person point of view with a sympathetic narrator giving life to the thoughts of Miss Brill.  The protagonist is a teacher in an English school.  Miss Brill is a self-deluded perfectionist.  She goes to the park every Sunday.  In her mind, she believes that if she did not go to the park, someone would notice and miss her. 

When Miss Brill prepares to go out, she wears her fox stole.  It was the type that still had the face of the fox on it.  The fur held great importance to Miss Brill.  The narrator gives the reader insight into how much Miss Brill loves her Sundays: the beauty of the park, the children laughing, the melodious music, and the conversations of the people all convey her enthusiasm. 

Oh, how fascinating it was! How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was exactly like a play.  Who could believe the sky at the back wasn’t painted? They were all on the stage.  They weren’t only the audience; they were on the stage.

Miss Brill thinks of herself as an actress and the others in the park as actors as well.  She loves the park. This is the stage for her play of life.

Miss Brill actually is uncommunicative.  Unknowingly, she thinks that she is interacting with other people: however, she actually has learned to listen to people without letting them know that she is listening. Her perception of the scene is different from the reader.  She sees herself taking part in the play that is happening around her.  On the other hand, the reader sees a lonely woman sitting on a park bench waiting for someone interesting to come and sit on her bench. 

The view of the Miss Brill's world is highly romanticized.   Her enjoyment comes from eavesdropping on other people’s conversation.  She is not grotesque or insane. Her state of mind comes from her loneliness and lack of human contact. The reader does not want to laugh at her, but rather welcome Miss Brill into real life and converse with her.

It is not revelation that Miss Brill actually knows no other people in the park.  Her fellow actors are people that she recognizes and names them by their clothes. For example, she sees a man that she has seen before wearing a new velvet coat. Miss Brill pretends that these people are performing in her play. 

Her bench is normally occupied by other people with whom Miss Brill identifies. All of them will return to their little cupboards and resume their normal lives. Her enthusiasm for her Sundays prevents her from feeling sad or lonely.  In her self-deception, she has a purpose and is needed in this place. 

Today, Miss Brill has two young rich teenagers sit on her bench. They represent the outside world.   These obnoxious, giggly adolescents thoughtlessly wound Miss Brill.  In their foolishness, they insult and make fun of Miss Brill and her fur, the emblem of her identity. 

Miss Brill withdraws from the scene and returns to reality.  Her little, dark room becomes her haven. She takes off her beloved fur without even looking at it and puts it back in its box. Still incapable of showing true emotion, she thinks that she hears someone crying.  The reader knows that it is Miss Brill. 

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