Describe the character of Miss Brill in "Miss Brill."
It is hard not to feel incredibly sorry for the character of Miss Brill in this excellent short story. We are told that she teaches English and that she also reads the newspaper to an "invalid old gentleman" four times each week. However, without a doubt, the highlight of her week is going each Sunday at the same time to listen to the band in the Jardins Publiques--the public gardens. This is clearly an important event for her, as she takes great care in the way that she dresses. This time of the week is so important for her because she loves watching the other people in the gardens and listening in on their conversations:
She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn't listen, at sitting in other people's lives just for a minute while they talked round her.
It is this "sitting in other people's lives" that is the central attraction, as we can infer that Miss Brill has no "life" of her own to "sit" in, and therefore she is reduced to living other people's lives vicariously through such trips to distract her from the emptiness of her own life. As she observes more and more, she imagines that the scene before her is like a "play" in which she too has a part and is significant. However, this dream of hers is punctured rather suddenly and rudely when a couple that she imagines to be "the hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from his father's yacht" make fun of her and send her back home to her "cupboard" of a room in tears.
Miss Brill therefore is a single woman who is profoundly lonely and isolated, and goes to the gardens each week to savour something of the life that she herself has never experienced. Although she tries to forget the empty reality of her existence by elaborate illusions and fantasies designed to give her significance and meaning, and link her in with others, at the end of the tale she is forced to confront her shadow of a life.