In Katherine Mansfield's short story titled "Miss Brill," how do Miss Brill's observations of the people around her give us insight into her own character?
In Katherine Mansfield’s story “Miss Brill,” the protagonist’s observations of other people give us insight into her own character in a number of ways, including the following:
- Miss Brill’s thoughts about the elderly couple, and particularly about the affectionate husband, help call attention to the fact that she is herself elderly but unmarried. She apparently has no attentive, affectionate male companion, as the other old woman does.
- Her observation of the two pairs of young couples again helps to highlight, through contrast, her own isolation and her own advanced age.
- The elderly woman with the cheap fur reminds one of Miss Brill herself, and this woman’s mistreatment by her male companion (as well as the woman’s sense of loneliness) foreshadows the ultimate fate of Miss Brill at the end of the story. Yet the woman seems more resilient than Miss Brill. The rejected woman goes in search of other company; when Miss Brill is rejected at the end of the story, she goes home alone and weeps.
- The treatment of the old man who is nearly knocked over by young people also foreshadows the ultimate fate of Miss Brill later in the story when she is mistreated by young persons.
- Miss Brill assumes that others in the park would miss her if she failed to come; instead, later in the story two characters seem actually annoyed by her presence.
- The boy and the girl who crudely insult Miss Brill help imply something appealing about the nature of Miss Brill’s own character, for although she does watch and listen to other people, she would never be as openly or intentionally cruel as these young people are. Her nature is more idealistic and more genuinely romantic than theirs; she is a more sensitive and gentle person than they are. She may be slightly tinged with pride (as when she imagines herself an actress), but she is by no means as crudely egotistical as these young people are.
- The young man’s crude sexual desires for the young woman help highlight, by contrast, the much more restrained and subtle sensuality of Miss Brill, who is delighted merely by finding an almond in her piece of cake.
- Early in the story, noticing the other people in the park, Miss Brill observes that
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!
Near the very end of the work, Miss Brill herself is described as
she passed the baker's by, climbed the stairs, went into the little dark room–her room like a cupboard–and sat down on the red eiderdown.
Here, especially, Miss Brill’s observations of others seem quite relevant to her own situation. In a sense, by the end of the story she becomes – or is revealed to be – the kind of person she herself had earlier observed.