Discussion Topic

The symbolic significance and personification of the fur in "Miss Brill."

Summary:

The fur in "Miss Brill" symbolizes Miss Brill's own feelings of isolation and her desire for connection. Personified as a companion, the fur reflects her emotional state and longing for warmth and companionship. When she puts it away at the end, it signifies her realization of her own loneliness and the harsh reality of her existence.

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How does the personification of the fur in "Miss Brill" emphasize her character?

When the story begins, Miss Brill is quite excited to get started with her Sunday routine. She will go to the jardins publiques, or the public park, and she will spend the afternoon looking at people.

As she gets ready to go to the park, she takes out her fur. Here, the narrative is told from Miss Brill's point of view, focusing on her feelings toward it. The fur is actually a necklet. However, Miss Brill talks to it, and thinks about it, as if it were her pet, and not a piece of clothing.

Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. [...] Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown! [...] Little rogue! Yes, she really felt like that about it. ...She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it.

These details offer insight on the degree of loneliness in Miss Brill's life. That she has given the traits of a living being to an inanimate object may not be so uncommon; children do it with dolls, and adults do it with cherished collectibles that may resemble something living. Miss Brill's fur was in the likeness of a fox. Therefore, we can bypass her fixation. However, her behavior shows that she has developed feelings toward this inanimate object. This is the fact that makes the situation all the more strange. 

Once in the park, she will make up stories in her mind about who each park visitor is, and why they are there. She will feel as if she were part of a stage, and the people around her are the actors. Moreover, she will do all this with a smile on her face, reflective of her emotions. In fact, her emotions take over at one point when Miss Brill feels overwhelmed with excitability at the notion of being part of the same scenario as the other park visitors; of sharing a space with them. She even cries!

In the middle of all this, she gets carried away, not realizing that a couple of young lovers are laughing at her. When she finally notices, and hears them call her fur "fried fish", she leaves the part and goes straight to her small apartment.

There, she puts the fox necklet back in its box, and she feels "something" crying. The crying was her own...or was it she imagining her fox crying? Either way, it is yet another dimension of Miss Brill's extreme loneliness and of the way that she attempts to manage to live life every day. 

The box that the fur came out of was on the bed. 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 personification not only sets forth the fact that Miss Brill has reached new lows in terms of how lonely she feels, but also that she is desperately trying to connect to "something". She is unsuccessful at her attempt, and all that she can do is remain and continue with her life, as she knows it. 

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What does the fur symbolize for Miss Brill?

The fur symbolizes Ms. Brill's inner view of herself. It is fragile, hidden away, untouched, and unique. It is also different, and a bit unapproachable. She is quite fond of her fur, and she refers to it in a way that almost reflects pity. She refers to it as "dear little thing". When she takes it out, she shakes it, gives it a good brush, and takes care of it as if she were taking care of a puppy, or something fragile and defenseless. She protects it dearly and she ensures that it comes out of its box every once in a while.

So much emphasis is placed in the treatment of the fur, that Mansfield basically wanted to demonstrate that the fur and Miss Brill were extremely similar in their lack of approach, their isolation, their loneliness, and their fragility. Once proud of her fur, when the teenagers laughed at her at the Jardins, she took it as a personal criticism. She became sullen and depressed, and she felt ashamed. This is how Mansfield explained the function of the fur and its influence in Brill's personality.

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What does the fur symbolize for Miss Brill?

Miss Brill's fur symbolizes her sense of pride and ultimately reflects the transformation of Miss Brill herself.

The story begins by describing the tender care Miss Brill demonstrates as she prepares her beloved fur wrap to be worn. Earlier in her life, this fur was not quite so dated, and it didn't need to have "moth powder" shaken out before being worn. The glass eyes, once bright and full of luster, are now "dim," much like Miss Brill's prospects. Still, wearing the fur gives Miss Brill a sense of pride, and she confidently carries these feelings with her to the public park.

While watching the various people who are also spending the afternoon at the park, Miss Brill comes to feel a fond comradery with them. These feelings are shattered when a boy calls her a "stupid old thing" and his young female companion makes fun of Miss Brill's beloved fur wrap.

Miss Brill is forced to recognize her own sense of displacement and isolation following the young couple's comments. She haphazardly places the fur inside its box when she returns home, no longer viewing it with pride or affection. The fur represents Miss Brill's false sense of confidence that she is accepted in her society, and these feelings are shattered in the end.

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What does the fur symbolize for Miss Brill?

Miss Brill is a lonely spinster who goes to the park every Sunday to listen to the band playing and to watch the people in the area. Her own life is quiet and rather empty, so she derives a great deal of happiness from observing other people's lives, and imagines herself as a silent participant in the activities and conversations that go on around her.

Miss Brill always looked forward to the conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn't listen, at sitting in other people's lives just for a minute while they talked round her.

On this particular Sunday, the weather is cool enough to warrant extra clothing, so Miss Brill wears her fox-fur necklet. Fur has always been a luxury item, and it is evident that Miss Brill has had this particular fur for a long time—long enough to have become emotionally attached to the fox, and to think of it almost as a kind of pet:

Little rogue! Yes, she really felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it.

Wearing the fur makes Miss Brill feel dressed-up, but that is appropriate, because this is the first Sunday of the "Season" and many people are out and about wearing their best clothes.

There were a number of people out this afternoon, far more than last Sunday. And the band sounded louder and gayer. That was because the Season had begun . . . Wasn't the conductor wearing a new coat, too? She was sure it was new.

Miss Brill listens in on the conversations happening around her and watches the people come and go, imagining their little dramas and romances and mentally setting them all to the music the band is playing. She muses that it is like being in the audience at a theater:

Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play.

It suddenly occurs to Miss Brill that she herself is part of the play rather than a simple spectator. She has an assigned role in the weekly ritual of Sundays in the park, and she is delighted to think that perhaps other people look forward to her "performances." She has the wonderful feeling of being included in something large and important, and the band seems to be playing especially for her:

[What the band] played was warm, sunny, yet there was just a faint chill—a something, what was it?—not sadness—no, not sadness—a something that made you want to sing. The tune lifted, lifted, the light shone; and it seemed to Miss Brill that in another moment all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing. . . . And Miss Brill's eyes filled with tears and she looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yes, we understand, we understand, she thought–though what they understood she didn't know.

Into Miss Brill's beautiful reverie two new voices come, a pair of young lovers, and Miss Brill, deeply moved by her feeling of belonging to the scene all around her, listens to what they are saying. She is mortified to hear the boy describe her as "that stupid old thing," but it is the girl mocking Miss Brill's fox-fur which is particularly heartbreaking. The fur, Miss Brill's only luxury, is reduced by a few careless words to something ugly, outdated, and embarrassing. The boy implies the same is true of Miss Brill herself:

"Why does she come here at all—who wants her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home?"

Miss Brill's enjoyment of her Sunday ritual evaporates. When she gets home, she removes the fur and casts it swiftly into its box, trying not to look at it. This is the same fur which, at the beginning, she so carefully brushed and cleaned, and proudly wore when she stepped out, and thought of as a "dear little rogue." Now, seared by embarrassment, she can't bring herself to remember how much she valued it. As she puts the lid on the box, she imagines she hears "something crying," as if the fox itself is wounded by what has just happened.

The fur is just an accessory, but in a way it represents Miss Brill's self-worth. She lives a humdrum, lonely life and only connects with people obliquely, by watching and listening to them. On the day she wears the fur, however, she feels a greater and deeper connection to the people around her, and even briefly transcends her ideas of herself when she realizes she is an "actress" on the small stage of "Sundays at the park." She feels good and worthy and important—all feelings which are destroyed by the cruel remarks of the teenagers sitting nearby. The fur made Miss Brill fee dressed-up when she came to the park. On her way home, she feels ridiculous. All her sense of connection to the wider world has been shattered, and by shamefacedly putting the fur away, Miss Brill seems to be giving up on ever re-establishing that connection.

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What does the fur symbolize for Miss Brill?

Miss Brill is a very isolated character, detached from the society which she imagines as a "play" she is watching. Even her name, "Brill," suggests a coldness, like a brill fish. Her behavior towards the fur is far warmer and more intimate than her feelings towards any of the human actors in her "play." Indeed, it is almost alive to her, a "dear little thing" which she carefully takes out of its box and brings to life, rubbing at its eyes and smoothing its fur.

The fur necklet, evidently, symbolizes something very important to Miss Brill. First, it a signifier of class to have a fur—the fact that Miss Brill keeps it carefully in a box when not being used, and its faded condition, suggest that she was once wealthier than she is now, and the fur represents a particular level of social standing to which Miss Brill, rightly or wrongly, still clings. Secondly, taking it out clearly represents a special occasion. Miss Brill takes out the fur—her companion and protector of her social standing—just as she takes out herself into wider society.

At the end of the story, then, when Miss Brill puts the fur away, she is symbolically putting herself away too. Returning to her little room, she puts away the image of herself she likes to enjoy when outside, of an elegant lady watching others as one might watch actors in a play. She is putting away the thing that once kept her warm and happy, a symbol of what was once good about her life. The worst part for Miss Brill is that she has been exposed—the fur does not make her look as she had hoped in the eyes of others. A young girl, giggling, has described her fur as looking like a "fried whiting." When Miss Brill imagines she hears the fur crying, then, as she puts it into its box, we can interpret this as her own muffled cry for help. The young girl has exposed the fur for what it really is: a sad, bedraggled, old thing past its prime. Miss Brill recognizes, on some level, that she herself feels this way: she and the fur, trapped in the confines of their respective boxes, are one and the same.

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