What is the symbolic significance of clothing in Mansfield's "Miss Brill"?

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The most important symbolic piece of clothing Miss Brill wears is her fox fur. It has been preserved with fake eyes and a fake nose, so that it looks as if Miss Brill is wearing a fox around her neck.

As we realize by the end of the story, the fox fur is a symbol of Miss Brill herself. Like Miss Brill, it is old and outdated. Like Miss Brill, it spends much of its time packed away in a box. Miss Brill is not literally packed in a box, but she spends much of her life in the tiny room in Paris where she lives.

Miss Brill's changed attitude toward the fox fur symbolizes her epiphany or sudden stroke of insight about how old, strange, and sad she has become, living and working in poverty and without friends in France.

As the story opens, Miss Brill can still convince herself, with some effort, that everything is all right. She is pleased with the way she brushes and shines up the old fur. She speaks of it teasingly and with affection:

Little rogue biting its tail just by her left ear.

By the end of the story, when she has overheard the boy with his girlfriend criticize her angrily, wondering why she comes to the park when she's not wanted—and after the girl makes fun of the fur, Miss Brill no longer can pretend to feel happy about her outing. She no longer calls her fox a little rogue. Instead, at home she

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

The fur is not crying: it is Miss Brill crying as she realizes she is old and strange, worn-out, poor, and alone.

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In Katherine Mansfield's slice of life story entitled "Miss Brill," clothing is reflective of social class and age, thus symbolizing an era. Interestingly, the descriptions and symbolism of the clothing of others are not unlike those of Miss Brill's.

As Miss Brill eagerly anticipates attending the concert at the Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens), she fondly pulls out "her fur." When she touches it, Miss Brill thinks fondly, "Dear little thing." She has pulled it from the box in which she has it stored and given it a good brushing; she has "rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes" of the creature from which it has been made. Miss Brill calls it "Little rogue," suggesting an animal that is driven away by other animals and must live alone as she does.

After Miss Brill arrives at the Gardens, she is disappointed to find an older man wearing a "dreadful Panama hat" while the wife wears "button boots." To Miss Brill's dismay, they are sitting in her "special seat." Ironically, Miss Brill does not recognize how much this couple and others that she views are reflective of her own personality:

[The man and woman] were odd, silent...and from the way they stared, they looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even--even cupboards!

On this Sunday, "an ermine toque and a gentleman in gray " meet just in front of her. The gentleman is tall and dignified. The woman whose eyes, hair, and face match the "ermine toque she'd bought when she was young," is delighted to see the gentleman, having hoped to meet him this afternoon. However, the man shakes his head, lights a cigarette, and tosses the match away even as the woman is still talking. "The ermine toque was alone." Miss Brill wonders what this woman with the yellowing, out-dated ermine piece will do now. This situation foreshadows what later occurs with Miss Brill as she, too, feels rejected when the young man and his girlfriend sit on the bench near her. "They were beautifully dressed; they were in love." When the well-to-do young man demonstrates his physical affection, the girl rebuffs him. He asks her if she acts this way because of "that stupid old thing at the end there," and the girl giggles as she replies, "It's her fu-fur which is so funny...It's exactly like a fried whiting."

After having her little fur of which she is so fond identified by the girl as resembling a fried fish, Miss Brill returns to her single, dark room ("her room like a cupboard") and sits for a long time. Without looking at her fur, she quickly returns it to the box, imagining that she hears something crying as she does so. Like the old fur, she too has become outdated and rejected.

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