How do the young lovers hurt Miss Brill?

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The young couple brutally remind Miss Brill of her loneliness and lack of companionship at the worst possible moment. Up until this point, Miss Brill had been living in a kind of fantasy about her place in the community. She speaks with no one and keeps to herself, indulging on sweets and dressing in a way that makes her feel good, with her little fur.

She imagines that the whole town is part of a play-acting company and that she is a part of this company. It makes her feel a connected-ness that gives her peace and joy. While listening to a band, Miss Brill thinks about this more fully:

The tune lifted, lifted, the light shone; and it seemed to Miss Brill that in another moment all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing. The young ones, the laughing ones who were moving together, they would begin, and the men's voices, very resolute and brave, would join them. And then she too, she too, and the others on the benches—they would come in with a kind of accompaniment—something low, that scarcely rose or fell, something so beautiful—moving . . . And Miss Brill's eyes filled with tears and she looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yes, we understand, we understand, she thought—though what they understood she didn't know.

However, the young lovers spoil everything. Sitting near Miss Brill, they complain about her aloud, her presence making the young woman unwilling to make out with her boyfriend, the boyfriend loudly complaining she's a nuisance. They even mock her clothes, particularly the little fur.

This shatters Miss Brill's sense of belonging and her pride in her dress. She goes home and takes off the fur, without even looking at it weeping to herself. In this moment, she realizes just how alone she really is.

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How has the young couple hurt Miss Brill? They have broken her love affair with the people, the "company," in the park. They have made the brutality passing by more important than the beauty visited. What, then, is the real focus or question of the story?

Miss Brill has an idea in her mind about the people who go to the park on Sundays to listen to the band when in season. She imagines the attendees are similar to herself. She imagines that they are there for the love of music and for the thrill of a group of people--no matter how unknown they are to each other--sharing the fellowship of a common interest and experience just as strangers at a large church on a Sunday feel themselves to be a congregation in fellowship. Miss Brill confirms this understanding of her sense of her experience through stream of consciousness remarks about the "company" beginning to sing together, "something so beautiful--moving...."

The major difficulty arises in the story in the form of the parade of brutality that marches between Miss Brill and the band. First there is the "beautiful" but calloused woman who throws away her "poisoned" "bunch of violets." Then there is the "tall, stiff, dignified" man who blows smokes in the face of the elderly, shriveled lady in the out-of-date "ermine toque" (a round-top brimless hat made of white ermine fur, once an expensive hat). Mansfield elaborates this instance in the parade of brutality perhaps to help illuminate--or perhaps contrast with--what Miss Brill is to feel and do herself a bit later on.

Then in the parade are the four girls who thoughtlessly, heartlessly nearly knock over the "funny old man with long whiskers" who "hobbled along in time to the music." Finally come the "boy and girl" who are "beautifully dressed" (unlike the yellowed lady in the old fashioned ermine toque) and who sit beside Miss Brill like the "hero and heroine" of her little drama that she "still" smiles tremblingly about. Up until her encounter with this boy and girl, Miss Brill has forgiven the brutality she sees, not knowing whether to "admire that or not!" Miss Brill, the cheerful optimist, has focused on the beauty, the vitality and united purpose of the visitors because there is a real sense in which their purposes are united: they each come to the concert every Sunday.

Now, the proximity of the cruel young couple, their direct manner of address to her and the personal nature of their remarks force Miss Brill to shift her focus to the brutality that usually only passes by as though on parade or as though entrances of bit players coming on and off the stage of the park drama. It is this contact with the brutal that breaks the love affair between Miss Brill and the "company" at the Sunday concert. It is this contact that makes the brutal more important than the beautiful.

While Miss Brill has been humiliated by them just like the old lady in the toque was humiliated by the man, it is not just humiliation that causes her to hurry home and to dash past the bakery and her honey-cake with the possibility of an almond. The joy has been taken out of these pleasures by the beautifully dresses but mean-spirited boy and girl. Thus it isn't just humiliation that makes her sit on her eiderdown--a costly, luxuriant comforter when new--and put her fox fur away without looking at it. The joy has been taken out of her fur and her carefully treasured life life: her fur has been called "funny," and she has been called "stupid." She realizes too that other people view her fur necklet as out-of-date, like the ermine toque, and view her life--to her a cheerful and optimistic life--as "pathetic." This points out the real question of the story: Will Miss Brill be made pathetic by a brutal and heartless couple of young lovers or will she rise above assault, like the lady in the toque did, and restore her former cheerful optimism and pleasure in little things?

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