Let's take a look at how irony and delusion appear in Katherine Mansfield's story “Miss Brill .” We'll begin with irony. Irony occurs when there is some sort of contrast between what appears to be or what one expects and what is real. In “Miss Brill,” the title...
Let's take a look at how irony and delusion appear in Katherine Mansfield's story “Miss Brill.” We'll begin with irony. Irony occurs when there is some sort of contrast between what appears to be or what one expects and what is real. In “Miss Brill,” the title character experiences irony several times. First, as she enjoys her fur, she treats the piece almost as if it were a live animal. It is a “little rouge,” with its bright, snapping eyes and black nose that might just need a touch up with sealing wax. Miss Brill does not notice or like to admit that her fur is rather old and probably more than a little shabby, yet she is quick to turn a critical eye to the woman with the ermine toque that is old and shabby. Miss Brill feels sorry for that woman, for the man she is speaking with turns away from her and rudely walks on. The woman continues to smile as though nothing has happened, likely thinking that she looks elegant and cheerful. Ironically, Miss Brill is just like that woman, but she doesn't seem to know it.
Irony occurs also in Miss Brill's name. “Brill” hints toward “brilliance,” sparkling, shining, and bright, but Miss Brill is none of these things. She is an aging teacher who spends her Sunday afternoons in the park, listening to the band and eavesdropping on other people's conversations. There is nothing brilliant about her, for she is rather worn and shabby, just like her old fur.
As she sits on the bench that Sunday afternoon, Miss Brill thinks she is just like an actress in a play, performing side by side with other members of her company each Sunday at this very park. She feels like a beautiful, talented actress who is playing her part just right. This idea makes Miss Brill feel like she is part of a group; she belongs to the people at the park, and they belong to her. Yet there is irony here, too, because it is not true.
This image of the play actually intensifies into a near delusion for Miss Brill. She is caught up in her role as an actress, just like the woman in the ermine is caught up in the delusion that she is still young and enchanting and beautiful and can keep the attention of a man. She cannot, nor is Miss Brill a stunning actress. At the end of the story, the delusion crumbles for Miss Brill. Two young people sit on the bench next to her. She decides that they are her hero and heroine, but they are far from it (another bit of irony). They are actually two very rude young people, for they speak disparagingly about Miss Brill, even knowing that she can hear them. Her image of the play falls apart, and reality hits her hard. She sees herself as they see her, as a “stupid old thing” with a horrible, funny fur that no one wants around. Miss Brill returns home to her little apartment, without her honey cake, and cries.