What is the rising action in "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rising action is always important in a short story; in Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill," the rising action literally sets the stage for the tremendous crash (fall) which is to come.  We meet Miss Brill at her home, where she puts on her funny little fur and makes her way, as always, to the park--which is where it really all begins.  It's a beautiful Sunday, with all kinds of things happening because it is a Sunday at the beginning of Season, when all social activities are at their peak.  And Miss Brill notices all of it: the band playing, the conductor

who scraped with his foot and flapped his arms like a rooster about to crow,

the two old people who always shared the bench with her and on whom she usually eavesdropped.  Today they were silent, though she recounts in her head a very specific conversation between a couple she listened to last Sunday.  Then there are the children playing, couples meandering, a beggar selling flowers, toddlers taking their wobbly steps, and the beautiful trees with their drooping yellow leaves.  An incident occurs in which a woman tries to exchange pleasantries (with the intent, obviously, of exchanging more than that), and the women is left, according to Miss Brill, broken-hearted.  All of this "living" takes place around her. 

Her mental wanderings bring her to a place of understanding that this entire scenario is one which is played out in front of her, week after week, much like a play--a play in which she is an actor.  She even imagines how she will explain this  exciting revelation to the English pupils she tutors or the old man to whom she reads the paper.  It's a thrilling prospect for her to think that she has a role in this weekly drama.

Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was part of the performance after all. How strange she'd never thought of it like that before!

This series of images and thoughts and even revelations--rising action--help endear us to her as we see this sweet, quirky woman for what she really is.  She is a lonely soul, a creature of habit, who is one of the "statues" or fixtures of this routine. 

When a young couple join her on the bench and force Miss Brill to face the reality of her stark existence, her world crashes.  That kind of a fall is only possible through the effective use of details and exposition in the rising action.