Comparing the women in "Miss Brill," "A Rose for Emily," and "The Storm," do they appear as real people or are they symbolic to the story?"Miss Brill"; Mansfield "A Rose for Emily"; Faulkner "The...

Comparing the women in "Miss Brill," "A Rose for Emily," and "The Storm," do they appear as real people or are they symbolic to the story?

"Miss Brill"; Mansfield

"A Rose for Emily"; Faulkner

"The Storm"; Chopin

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting but in some ways difficult question. Miss Brill dominates Mansfield's story "Miss Brill" but Emily, it might be argued, is only a background figure in Fauklner's "A Rose for Emily," while the appearance of Calixta in Chopin's "The Storm" may be said to be dominated at one point by Alcée's point of view. It is also difficult because limits of the writer's skill may confuse the issue making a poorly drawn character seem symbolic instead of realistic. It is further made difficult because even realistic characters like Dickens' David Copperfield can have symbolic importance, i.e., a symbolic copper field. So the task at hand may be said to be one of sorting out the dominant role of realistic representation versus symbolic presence.

I'd say that Miss Brill is a realistic character. Though we aren't told much about her, we are told enough to infer her background and her personality and character traits. We become involved in her life in even the short span of the story. We care about her when she is heartlessly disparaged by the "hero and heroine" in the story and feel a pang of sorrow with her when she hears a faint weeping:

She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.

On the other hand, Emily is always described as though from a distance, as when she and her father are described as standing on the front porch, with Emily behind and overshadowed by him.

We had long thought of them as a tableau; Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, ... the two of them framed by the back-flung front door.

I'd say that Faulkner's Emily is never more than a symbolic representation of the decay and corruption of society in the South; a representation of an impotent and fading way of life. The corruption of this way of life is symbolically dramatized by what the towns people find in the chilling bedchamber.

Calixta is a little harder to sort out. She is introduced later in the story, though the delay has good effect. She has very little dialogue interaction with any other character. A good deal of her involvement in the story is reaction: her reaction to Alcée; her reaction to her Bobinôt and Bibi; one might even include her reaction to the storm:

She unfastened her white sacque at the throat. It began to grow dark, and suddenly realizing the situation she got up hurriedly and went about closing windows and doors.

She doesn't appear to have as much of a symbolic purpose as Emily. I'd say she is not meant to be a symbolic character. In addition, though we care about her and have interest in how her story ends and though it appears she is meant to be predominantly a realistic character, I'd say she is not well enough drawn by Chopin to make a clear distinction. Part of the reason she is not well drawn as a character is that Chopin shifts the emphasis of the point of view of the omniscient third-person narrator from Calixta to Alcée almost as soon as he is introduced:

He expressed an intention to remain outside, but it was soon apparent that he might as well have been out in the open: the water beat in upon the boards in driving sheets, and he went inside,

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Miss Brill

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