Miss Brill Exposed Essay, Research Paper
Miss Brill EXPOSED!
Katherine Mansfield s short story , Miss Brill, is a tale of a woman operating at the outer fringe of reality, told from the third person omniscient point of view. The mannerly, refined Miss Brill is an observer of life, one who sits on the sidelines while the game of life is played without her. She wears a decrepit fox fur as if it were the most beautiful and fashionable thing to wear. Her dressing ritual would suggest that she were going to see a play, which she believes she is, instead of seated on her usual bench in the park on Sunday. She observes the scenes before her played out one after another. She even believes that the players might miss her if she were to fail to show up for one of the performances. Her illusion is cruelly shattered when a young couple cruelly pokes fun at her as she eavesdrops on their conversation.
One cannot help but feel saddened by the incident which forced Miss Brill to see herself in a different light mainly because Mansfield supplies no background to account as to why Miss Brill operates as she does. The way in which the narrator describes Miss Brill gives dainty and graceful texture to the story , Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of her box that after noon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. What has been happening to me? said the sad little eyes. Oh how sweet it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown! But the nose, which was of some black composition, wasn t at all firm. It must have had a knockdown somehow. Never mind-a dab of black sealing wax when the time came-when it was absolutely necessary 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. She felt a tingling in her arms, but that came from walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad-no, not sad, exactly-something gentle in her bosom. (Pg. 49-50) This narrative of her dressing also gives Miss Brill innocence because of her love for the fox fur, it is a companion of sort. It is her partner in her clouded existence, she cares for it and it gives her companionship.
As she settles in the park she sees the usual crowd and greets them in her own way by observing what she enjoys about each one of them. the band sounded louder and gayer. That was because the Season had begun. For although the band played all year round on Sundays, out of season it was never the same. It was like some one playing with only the family to listen. (Pg. 50) She enjoys the company of two other possible spectators a fine old man in a velvet coat, his hands clasped over a huge walking stick, and a big old woman, siting upright, with a roll of knitting on her embroidered apron. (Pg. 50) This was her existence. Living vicariously through other people , listening as though she didn t listen, at sitting in other peoples lives just for a minute while they talked around her. This passage defines her life. She has no life on her own. Miss Brill is dependent upon the lives of people she observes.
Miss Brill views her own life as pleasant. One can see that she has no real contact with the people she observes. She has removed herself from society. Oh how she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play. She would continue to live as she did were it not for the young couple she began to listen;
No, not now, said the girl. Not here, I can t
But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there? asked the boy.
Why does she come here at all-who wants her? Why doesn t she keep her silly old mug at home?
It s her fu-fur which is so funny, giggled the girl. Its exactly like a fried whiting.
Ah, be off with you! said the boy in an angry whisper. Then: Tell me, my petite cherie-
No, not here, said the girl. Not yet. (Pg. 52)
The picture Miss Brill has of herself suffers a forced change in the course of the afternoon, specifically after this scene in her play. Mansfield subtly conveys the woman’s lack of understanding of the world she observes so closely. Some of Miss Brill’s lacking comprehension may be attributed to her age, but the fact that she seems an outcast of society, an old thing, (Pg. 52) thrown away, she creates her own shabby existence from bits and pieces of reality. Although one may have begun to look at Miss Brill suspiciously, the full effect of her observation of the others does not come until she goes home, her day ruined by a young woman’s saying that her fox fur looks like “a fried whiting.” (Pg. 52)
Miss Brill is so hurt that she does not even stop at the baker’s to get her usual “slice of honey-cake,”(Pg.52) which sometimes has an almond in it, showing in what small ways a person may make her own life ever so slightly pleasant, Mansfield writes that the almond was to Miss Brill “something that might very well not have been there.” (Pg. 52) Today without a slice of cake, she climbs the stairs to “the little dark room–her room like a cupboard.” (Pg. 52) When she returns her fur to its box she is incapable of recognizing the origin of her tears, which of course, is her grief and humiliation. It is more natural for her to imagine that the weeping comes from the glass eyes of the fox’s head on the boa. This shows the irony of her secondhand life, comprising of secondhand experiences (eavesdropping on the people in the park) as well as secondhand furs. She is incapable of genuine self-awareness; she is ignorant with regards to her situation.
Miss Brill, is a tale of a woman operating at the outer fringe of reality. Her life revolves around the lives of the people in her play. Forced to come to terms with reality by two of the actors in her play. Her sorrow is masked by her delusions. She will never return to reality. No one reaches out to her to bring her back; they only mock her smudged view. She will finish the rest of her dreary life in solitude and sorrow.
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