In Katherine Mansfield's story "Miss Brill," how is the title character's isolation emphasized when she sits in the park?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Miss Brill,” the title character’s isolation is emphasized, in a number of ways, by her presence in a park.  Those ways include the following:

  • Miss Brill not only addresses her fur piece (at least mentally) but also imagines it addressing her, as if she is lonely enough that she carries on an imaginary conversation with a piece of clothing.
  • Miss Brill observes other people walking in the park but doesn’t interact with them by waving or saying hello and making any effort to acknowledge them. Initially she seems fairly isolated.
  • In a particularly intriguing paragraph, Mansfield at first seems to suggest that other people, sitting near her, don’t speak to Miss Brill; instead, however, Miss Brill actually seems to have no interest at all in engaging them in conversation but would prefer to overhear their conversation with each other – a conversation they don’t provide:

Only two people shared her "special" seat: a fine old man in a velvet coat, his hands clasped over a huge carved walking-stick, and a big old woman, sitting upright, with a roll of knitting on her embroidered apron. They did not speak. This was disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked forward to the conversation. 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.

  • When the couple don’t speak, Miss Brill implies her comfort with her isolation by speculating that perhaps the couple will soon leave.
  • When Miss Brill recalls a conversation she overheard a week earlier, she doesn’t recall any effort on her part to participate in that conversation. Instead, she mainly recalls her annoyance with the woman who was speaking.  Once again, Miss Brill’s experiences in the park make her seem isolated. 
  • Turning her thoughts away from the recent past, Miss Brill now watches some other people present in the park, but again she makes no effort to interact with them. She seems to be an observer rather than a naturally gregarious person.
  • At one point, Miss Brill notices couples, but their engagement with one another only emphasizes, by contrast, her isolation:

Two young girls in red came by and two young soldiers in blue met them, and they laughed and paired and went off arm-in-arm.

No romantic attachments are suggested in connection with Miss Brill. In fact, the mere fact that Miss Brill is called “Miss Brill” rather than “Mrs. Brill” implies that she has not been married. Presumably she has never had children, although she does observe children in the park -- another way in which her isolation is highlighted. In fact, she observes all kinds of different people, behaviors, and relationships in the park but doesn’t seem involved in any of them herself except vicariously and through observation.