Compare and contrast the character of Miss Brill in "Miss Brill" with the character of Emily Grierson in “A Rose for Emily."

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The similarities between Miss Brill and Miss Emily Grierson stem from the fact that the two women are examples of extreme isolation and its effects on the psyche, and the spirit, of those who experience it.

Their key difference is how each woman tries to regain control of her situation. Miss Brill uses denial, while Miss Emily tries to appropriate people. Miss Brill does it because of her highly introverted nature. In contrast, Miss Emily's actions show a psychological disturbance. In any case, they are both people who suffer in total loneliness, and each tries to deal with life however she can.

Both women live alone, partly because of an overall inability to fit in. In "Miss Brill," the eponymous main character is a British expatriate, presumably a "spinster," who works as an English teacher in Paris.

Alone in a big city and without friends, Miss Brill finds enjoyment in people-watching during her Sunday strolls at the public gardens. In her mind, as she watches people, she creates incredible scenarios in which she imagines that the park is a massive theater and that everyone at the park is taking part in a big play.

This is indicative of someone who is more comfortable creating scenarios in her mind rather than going out in the world to make real friends. Sadly, her introverted nature prevents her from truly connecting with people.

In the case of Miss Emily, her behavior may be caused by something far more serious than just a personality trait. Her actions are contradictory: she isolates herself from the world but is also unable to let go of the people she wants around. She does extreme things to stay with them. 

The day after [her father's] death . . . she told [people] that [he] was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.

The second major thing that Emily does in order to keep someone around is, of course, the killing of Homer Barron shortly after he leaves her. The story tells us that he is seen entering her house one last time—and then never seen again. We learn in the end that Emily poisons Homer during that last visit when he is seen entering her house, and then she keeps his dead body for decades. 

Clearly, that is the major difference between the two women: Miss Brill has a socialization issue, while Miss Emily is psychologically damaged.

Another set of similarities and differences is that, while they both suffer, each of them deals with it in a different way.  

In Miss Brill's case, she pretends that she is not sad: 

She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad, exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.

In Emily's case, she attempts to gain control by using arrogance to keep people away. She also uses her family name, even though it is no longer powerful, and her stern attitude as her protective shield against a society that finds her as outdated as her family history and her dilapidated home. 

Both women show that total isolation is never a good thing. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are two great characters to compare and contrast. The first way in which both Miss Brill and Emily Grierson can be compared is through the solitude in which they live their lives. Let us remember that for vast stretches of her life, Miss Emily has led a quiet, undisturbed existence, with hardly anybody even entering her house, let alone having friends. Indeed, part of the myth surrounding her is a result of her solitude in her life. The opening paragraph of the story tells us that nobody save for an old manservant had even entered her house in the last ten years of her life. The way in which Emily Grierson rejects other humans and lives her life alone shows the way in which she is a solitary figure, however, and this is the key difference between the two characters, this is a solitude she has desired and embraced.

Miss Brill, by contrast, is shown to be a lonely figure, but this solitude is something that she definitely does not want and fills her with great sadness. What is interesting about Miss Brill is the way in which she leads a fantasy life that allows her to believe that her existence has some importance. The elaborate play that she believes goes on in the park means that she can convince herself that she matters and she can deny her lonely existence:

They were all on the stage. They weren't only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was part of the performance, after all.

Note the elaborate fabrication Miss Brill creates to convince herself that she is important and that others recognise her importance. All the time, however, she lives in a small room that is "like a dark cupboard" and has no real friends or purpose in life. Whilst she can be compared to Miss Emily in the way that she is a solitary figure, this is definitely not something that Miss Brill desires, and it brings her tremendous sadness, as the end of this story shows.