Miss Brill's given name is never mentioned since she has no friends who would use it. However, at the beginning of the story she is blissfully happy with her life and situation. She has compensated for her isolation by sitting in on the lives of other people and casting herself as a significant character in the panoramic, multi-charactered drama of life.
Very much a creature of habit, her Sunday routine was to attend the open-air band concert at the public gardens. She had her own special seat where she would listen to the music and sit in on the conversations of nearby people. She was disappointed if they remained silent. The previous Sunday had been unpleasant because the conversation between an Englishman and his wife involved her complaints about failing vision and the problems involved with wearing spectacles. "Miss Brill had wanted to shake her."
"And now an ermine toque and a gentleman in gray met just in front of her." Interestingly, the woman in her fur hat was getting on in years and it showed in "her hair, her face, even her eyes," which were "the same color as the shabby ermine." Miss Brill is shocked when the gentleman "lighted a cigarette, slowly breathed a great deep puff into her face. . .flicked the match away and walked on." The innocent Miss Brill is unaware that she has been watching a prostitute plying her trade without success.
The high point of the story occurs as Miss Brill fantasizes that all the people in sight, herself included, were actors on stage. If she had missed playing her part one Sunday, someone would have noticed! In reality, Miss Brill is a part of nothing. She sits alone on a bench with her ratty old fur and watches the world pass before her. She sees other people sitting on benches Sunday after Sunday and thinks of them as "funny...odd, silent, nearly all old...as though they'd just come from dark little rooms." Rather than see herself as one of them, she creates a fantasy world to escape facing the truth.
When thinking of things, such as the band that plays regularly in the park, Miss Brill compares them to family: "It was like some one playing with only the family to listen...." Everything and everyone is included in this performance she loves so dearly. Even the young couple who take a seat on the bench with her are pictured to be the "hero and heroine" of her magical fairy tale. This is her escape from the life she has; her escape from the truth. Eavesdropping on their conversation, she hears them refer to herself as "that stupid old thing" and to her furpiece as "exactly like a fried whiting," referring to a fish. The realization emotionally destroys her. The couple that she hears in the park exemplifies this by making fun of her fur which in turn means that they have been mocking her. To avoid this realization she must believe that the fur is beautiful. After her encounter with the couple, she begins to grasp reality and, in dispair, hurries home not even stopping at the bakery where she always stops. She gets home and sits there for a while with the fur and as she begins to put it away, she hears a crying. When she puts the fur away it is noted that she doesn't look at it. This definitely contrasts to how she acted towards it at the beginning. She now realizes that she is neither beautiful nor young and by putting the fur away she puts these beliefs behind. The crying that Miss Brill hears comes from her own heart because she has just been crushed by the realization that she has been compelled to make at the park.
In the heartrending conclusion, Miss Brill returns to her "little dark room - her room like a cupboard" without making her usual stop at the baker's for a slice of honeycake that might -just might - have an almond in it. She removes her necklet and puts it in a box, thinking as she does so that she hears something crying. The symbolic correspondence of this sweet little old lady who wants only good things to happen and has not an iota of ill will or...
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