Student Essay on Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill”
The following essay was written by a student who wishes to remain anonymous. (As we will shortly see, this reticence stems from modesty, not embarrassement!)
The essay is discussed at some length here.
It was written in response to the following assignment:
Discuss how the author's choice of a particular point of view helps communicate a central theme of the tale. Develop a clear argument to show how the narrator's point of view is essential to the audience's recognizing and understanding the theme. Support your argument with specific observations and analysis. Quote and document according to the guidelines in the chapter "Writing About Literature" at the back of our textbook.
Mansfield’s “Miss Brill”
This short story is narrated in the third person from the point of view of the limited omniscient narrator who primarily acts as the voice of the story’s protagonist, Miss Brill. By telling the story through the eyes of the protagonist, Mansfield is able to convey to the reader the protagonist’s loneliness and the lack of self-awareness. She offers no explanation as to the Miss Brill’s past, leaving it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. At the same time the author provides illuminating insights into the protagonist’s character and lifestyle that effectively communicate to the reader the theme of this short story. The central theme of “Miss Brill” is the pain of loneliness, and inadvertent attempts to experience life through the experiences of total strangers.
the beginning of the narrative it becomes apparent that Miss Brill is starving
for warmth and companionship. She tenderly caresses her fur as if it were a
beloved pet when she rubbs “the life into the dim little eyes” (p.50) of
the old fox boa. Another sign of Miss Brill’s need for companionship is
evident in her perception of the music which the band is playing at the
Jardins Publiques: “It was like some one playing with only the family to
listen (p.50).” Despite of her loneliness, she is considering herself a part
of this family that the band is entertaining with its music. But in reality
she is more of an observer, a voyeur, and not an active participant in life as
it unfolds at the Jardins Publiques. She is looking forward to eavesdropping
on other people’s conversations, believing herself to be quite an expert in
remaining unnoticed. Miss Brill adopts a more critical, at times even hostile,
attitude toward the women that she observes in the park than toward their male
companions: she views the man who shares her “special” seat as “a fine
old man,” while the woman is “a big old woman (p.50).” When she
recollects the events of the previous Sunday at the park, she remembers a
patient Englishman with the difficult to please wife, whom “Miss Brill
wanted to shake (p.50).” These observation of the women carry perhaps a note
of envy that she feels toward the women who have male companionship.
this point in the story the reader still does not know much about the
protagonist, except that she is a lonely voyeur. Then one of her observations
about the “odd, silent, nearly all old people, and from the way they stared
they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even –
even cupboards! (p.51)” whom she sees every Sunday at the park hints to the
reader that she might be one of those people. The pieces of the puzzle, of
course, fall into place at the end of the story, when the protagonist’s room
is described as “the little dark room-her room like a cupboard (p.52).”
This is the conclusion of the story, when Miss Brill is able to see herself
and her surroundings in the new light. Her new self-awareness is brought about
by disparaging remarks of the young lovers who refer to Miss Brill as “that
stupid old thing (p.52),” and to her precious fur as “a fried whiting
(p.52).” This is Miss Brill’s moment of epiphany. She is as old as the
other park-goers, her fur is a pitiful necklet, and she foregoes her usual
Sunday slice of honeycake. In spite of her newly found self-awareness, Miss
Brill still denies some of her own emotions when “she thought she heard
something crying (p.52)” at the very end of the story. The tears are
obviously her own.
Mansfield, Katherine. “Miss Brill.” An Introduction to Fiction. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999. 50-52
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Since the student author wishes to remain anonymous, contents are copyright © 2000 by Lyman A. Baker, with the understanding that the student may assert copyright at any time, upon discretion.
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This page last updated 25 October 2000 .