In her story “Miss Brill,” Katherine Mansfield offers a portrait of an elderly woman who has become detached from the reality of her current situation. As the world changes around her, Miss Brill tries to continue living as she had done years—or even decades—earlier. The story is told...
In her story “Miss Brill,” Katherine Mansfield offers a portrait of an elderly woman who has become detached from the reality of her current situation. As the world changes around her, Miss Brill tries to continue living as she had done years—or even decades—earlier. The story is told by a third-person narrator, who primarily speaks from the protagonist’s point of view. Most of the story’s action takes place in a park, the Jardins Publiques, where Miss Brill spends time every Sunday afternoon. Another setting is the small, furnished room where she lives. Her preparation to go out and her reactions upon returning to the room frame the action in the park.
One symbol of her unchanging ideas is the outmoded fur stole that she continues to wear when she goes out. The once-stylish fur, which she keeps in mothballs, is so old that its nose is dented; she does not realize that her imagined repair with wax will make it look grotesque. The idea of its providing warmth on a cool day also symbolizes the lack of companionship, as she directs her affection toward the long-dead fox.
In the park, Miss Brill’s thoughts further reveal the gap between her perceptions and the reality around her. Rather than converse with other park visitors, she listens to their conversation. Instead of being embarrassed at eavesdropping, she is proud that she is “quite expert” at listening to them and imagines that they do not notice how she “glanced, sideways.”
The elderly woman’s impressions are also false in failing to notice that she herself looks like the people whom she critically notices as having “something funny about … them.”
They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even—even cupboards!
When Miss Brill does realize the falsity in her behavior, as she sits silently observing, she concludes that she is acting onstage rather than being part of the audience. She further imagines telling others that she is an actress and has been one “for a long time.”