Miss Brill Symbolism

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A literary device that enriches a narrative because it adds a depth of meaning as it connects to the theme, symbolism is often quite valuable. In "Miss Brill," both meaning and poignancy are enriched by certain symbols:

  • the little fur piece  
    When she pulls the old fur piece out in order to wear it to the park for the outdoor concert, Miss Brill thinks of it as alive, calling it "little rogue." Ironically, a rogue is an animal that lives apart or has been driven away by others; for, Miss Brill will later be "driven" away because of the young couple's ridicule of her appearance. Further in the narrative, Miss Brill puts the fur away in its little box, and her gesture is symbolic of her own fate as she finds herself "outdated" and isolated, as well. 
  • the ermine toque
    This little hat, worn by an older woman whose face and hands are yellowed like the toque, is given personality by Miss Brill, just as her fur piece is. Observing this woman, whom she thinks of as the toque, Miss Brill notices her react with pleasure when she sees a certain gentleman. However, as Miss Brill hears her say that she "rather thought they were going to meet this afternoon," the man disinterestedly lights a cigarette and flicks his match away and "walked on." Much as Miss Brill will later experience loneliness, so does the "ermine toque" in this scene. She, too, is an anachronism, as symbolized by the ermine toque.

The ermine toque was alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band seemed to know what she was feeling and played more softly, played tenderly, and the drum beat, "The Brute! The Brute!" over and over.

  • the cupboard
    Miss Brill notices that many of the people at the park who sit on the benches and the green chairs are nearly all the same with something "funny about nearly all of them." These people are strange, silent, and staring forward. They appear as though "they'd just come from dark little rooms or even—even cupboards!" It is as though they have been put away during the week and brought out on Sundays.
    Ironically again, Miss Brill later returns home, her enjoyment of the concert and her delight in the music ruined by the cruel remarks of a young couple at the other end of a bench where she has sat. As she heads homeward, she bypasses the bakery where she usually stops on Sunday for a slice of cake and returns to her little empty room that is "like a cupboard." There she sits for a long time before she unhooks the fur necklet and places it into its box, thinking she has heard it crying.
    Miss Brill is antiquated and no longer vibrant and a part of society. She is but an old woman living a lonely life in a small room, a room not unlike the cupboard that symbolizes her limited life.
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pippin1313's profile pic

pippin1313 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Fur - the tatty state of the fur wrap represents the tatty state of Miss Brill, despiteher beliefs to the contrary.

Clothing - these are seen by Miss Brill as status symbols throughout the story. She concentrates on what others are wearing and makes judgement based on this. She is devestated when she hears the young couple make the same assumptions about her.

Old people - the old people throughout the story seem to be disposable. They are shown in a less than respectable way and this symbolises how Miss Brill is also superfluous to the younger people in the story.

Autum (Fall) -symbolises that Miss Brill is past her prime and about to enter the final stages of her life. She is discoloured and withered like the leaves.

Another symbol you could look at are the number of colours that are mentioned throughout the story. These are mentioned in relation to other characters and not Miss Brill as she is colourless.This shows how she bases her personality on what others think; her arrogance makes her drab and lifeless.

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lydianguyen00's profile pic

lydianguyen00 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

So does the honey cake and the almond count as a symbol ? 

lize164's profile pic

lize164 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

The fur, and its characteristics

the od people and the young people

the cupboard

gives personification to the fur.

after the young couple criticize her, she suddenly feels conscious of her age.

the public park is viewed by her as a "play" the world is on stage

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