miss brill

Critical Analysis: Miss Brill



Katherine Mansfield’s short story into the heart and mind of the aging Miss
Brill

captures the spirit of human nature’s desire to feel important. The short
story revolves

around its one main character, Miss Brill who suffers from a lack of purpose
or

significance. Miss Brill appears to be living an illusion of importance
because in reality

she is scarcely noticed and needed. The author tells the story through the
eyes of an

outsider who possess such a familiarity with the main character, that much of
Miss Brill’s

characterization is presented indirectly through the narrator. The key
concepts used in

bringing out the theme of human desire to be a significant part of a greater
whole, are

point of view, characterization, and setting.

The key emphasis in revealing the theme is on Miss Brill’s character. In
order to

truly get a sense of who she is, the author provides a setting that
compliments the mood

and gesture of the story. Set in London on a Sunday at the Public Gardens,
the story opens

with a glamorous description, “the blue sky powdered with gold and great
spots of light

like white wine splashed over the Jardines Publiques” (p.97). The author
then goes on to

mention that Miss Brill was pleased with her decision to wear her fur coat.
Miss Brill is

captured by her surroundings, and wishes to take part in it by revealing her
best to the

public. Also mentioned, is that it is Season, a time of load and gay music,
festive and

content people. The weather is described pleasantly, the air is “motionless,”
with just “a

faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip...”(p.97).
Everything is

enchanting and obliging. This is what brings Miss Brill to the gardens on
this particular

Sunday with such high spirits. She feels a sense of belonging in the gardens.
Miss Brill is

familiar with all of the faces, including the band members. The author
describes the band

on Sundays as not caring how they played because there weren’t any
strangers present.

Miss Brill even notices that the conductor is wearing a new coat. Her
surroundings fulfill

her, she is familiar with all of the faces and gains pleasure from
pin-pointing and recalling

specific changes. Although she is alone, she perceives herself, in her fur
coat as one of

these fine people on this fine day collectively enjoying themselves.

From the setting we begin to see the developing of theme through Miss Brill’s

character. However, Miss Brill’s character in itself is developed through
not only her

actions, but the author’s representation of her. The point of view in the
story is

omniscient, in which a third person narrator tells the story possessing a
great familiarity

with the main character. The narrator describes Miss Brill as always
listening in on

conversations. “She had become really quite expert, she thought, as
listening as though

she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives just for a minute
while they talked round

her” (p.98). Miss Brill even forms her own opinions in the conversations,
such as how

one lady was just so silly in her fret over wearing spectacles. It pleases
Miss Brill

to meddle covertly in the affairs of her fellow people. This makes her feel
important,

aware, and significant. Also, the narrator mentions Miss Brill’s
observation of the other

old people in the gardens. This mentioning is key because it reveals Miss
Brill’s illusion

in all of the other old people. She, however, does not notice that she
resembles them, and

sees them as strikingly “odd, silent, nearly old, and from the way they
stared they looked

as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even---even cupboards!”
(p.99) Miss

Brill’s character is revealed extensively here, the reader fully grasps her
blind situation

(which can be said for the other old people just like Miss Brill who look at
her as

strikingly odd and funny).

Moreover, the author mentions Miss Brill creating her role in a play. Miss
Brill

creates her significance in the gardens by perceiving everyone present as
part of a grand

company of actors playing out their parts. This gives Miss. Brill a sense of
belonging.

“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”
(p.100). The author

reveals Miss Brill as truly believing that without doubt if she was not
present on Sundays

somebody would notice. Certainly this is false, Miss Brill is not living in
reality. In

addition, Miss Brill builds her self importance by perceiving her self as a
true actress. She

tells “the invalid gentleman” to whom she reads the newspaper to four
days a week that

she “has been an actress for a