What are the two main settings in the short story "Miss Brill," and how do they directly contribute to character presentation and plot development?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two settings in "Miss Brill" are Miss Brill's apartment and the Jardins Publiques. It is at the public gardens, the park, where Miss Brill seems to live the life she wants; she can listen in on others' conversations, "sitting in [their] lives just for a minute while they talked around her." While she's eavesdropping, she seems to imagine that she is actually in these people's lives, and—what's more—that they are actually all a part of some elaborate theatrical production. In this way, she can believe that "somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there." By convincing herself that she comes here each week, at the same time, to listen to the band and people-watch, in order to perform her part in this "play," her weekly routine is given meaning that it wouldn't otherwise have. Her fantasies let us know just how lonely her life really is and how desperately she craves relevance.

Further, she describes the other people at the park as "odd, silent, nearly all old" and looking like they came out of "dark little rooms or even—even cupboards!" We might have already ascertained that Miss Brill is, herself, old, based on the formality of her title, the fact that she wears a very old-fashioned (and just plain old) fox fur, and the tingling she feels in her arms when she walks leisurely to the park. Then the young man sits next to her and calls her a "'stupid old thing,'" and this confirms our suspicions. She skips her typical stop at the bakery and goes straight home to her apartment described by the narrator as a "dark little room— her room like a cupboard." This repetition of the words used to describe both the old folks' homes and Miss Brill's home conveys the hopelessness of her situation, the fact that no one would miss her if she failed to show up at the park or anywhere else. The tension between these two places and the differences between Miss Brill's behavior and emotions in each help us to understand her character and drive the plot forward.