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Katherine Mansfield's short story "Miss Brill" is a depiction of life for an older woman named, not surprisingly, Miss Brill. One key theme in this story is that of isolation. She is a quaint creature who has a weekly routine which she follows religiously. Each Sunday, she releases her rather shabby ermine fur from its box (playfully teasing it) and heads for the park. She is as prim and proper and precise as her name, and the fact that she's a spinster is no surprise to us as we follow her this Sunday. At the park, she is lost in the drama of those around her as she sits on the bench. She is struck with the sudden thought that the events which unfold before her each week--the music, the couples, the varied activities and relationships which she sees--are a play, and she is the audience.
This is a clear picture of isolation, of being on the outside looking in. She is alone and isolated in a way which she is clearly unaware but is nonetheless tragic to see. Miss Brill is content to be on the outside--until the arrival of a young couple who sit on her bench. They are being playful and a bit romantic, until the girl says she can't do this with such a ridiculous old thing sitting right there. After she overhears this hurtful comment, Miss Brill is faced with the knowledge that she is actually just one more tragic character in this "play" of life, not the carefree audience member she saw herself as being. She doesn't say so, but she understands that she is one of the lonely actors.
Being part of this show does not mean she is no longer isolated; instead, it means she now recognizes her tragic isolation in a way she never did before. Her time of blissful ignorance is over. She follows her usual routine on the way home, but it is a joyless journey. She stops at the bakery, where the small delight of an almond on her pastry once gave her joy, but no longer. She arrives at the house and puts her ermine torque back in the box, and she hears it crying. What she hears, of course, is the sound of her own tears. The visual of being returned to a box, of coming back home to her "cupboard," highlights her isolation from the joys and delights of the world. Miss Brill's eyes have been opened to her own isolation and she weeps.
I've added an excellent e-notes link below for even more ideas.
as a general speaking: some old people try to avoid loneliness by living in illusion, but when they face the reallity they become hopelessly disillusioned.
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