Themes in Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

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Themes in Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

Abstract: Fiction interpretation contributes to a more sufficient understanding and profound appreciation of literary works for readers. Miss Brill, a short story written by Katherine Mansfield, describes an afternoon in the life of a middle-aged spinster who visits the public park on a weekly basis, leading to her reassessment of her view of the world and the secular reality. Though short in form, it is really worth detailed interpretation and appreciation. This paper will mainly deal with the themes it conveys.

Keywords: Miss Brill, themes, loneliness, acceptance, belonging, estrangement, the elderly

1. Introduction

Miss Brill is one of Katherine Mansfield’s most popular stories published in her 1922 collection of stories entitled The Garden Party and Other Stories. The story is the typical style of Mansfield due to its application of a stream-of-consciousness narrative in which Miss Brill’s character is vividly and depicted through her psychological change when spending her Sunday afternoon on the park bench listening to the band playing and observing the crowd. It begins with Miss Brill’s happy and excited preparation of wearing her prized fur stole and scarf for her regular trip to the pier. Her excitement continues when she is sitting on the bench in the bustling park filled with people, enjoying the warm afternoon, listening to the band’s loud and gay playing and observing different people astutely. Miss Brill considers this scene to be a play, in which she and all other people in the park are characters involved, all perfectly interacting to form an idyllic backdrop for her studies of human nature. She believes herself to be an active and vital actress in this play while to a young couple who make a flippant comment on her, she is just “that stupid old thing” and is not wanted at all. Consequently, her vivacious mood and illusion has been totally and cruelly shattered. She then leaves the park, skipping her usual trip to the bakery and goes back to her tiny apartment. Placing the fur back in the box, she seems to hear it crying. Instead of describing the main character Miss Brill in depth or giving a direct detailed physical description, the author tries to illustrate character or nature through setting, other characters, point of view, etc. This paper aims at interpreting the story through analyzing concrete themes it reveals, including loneliness, seeking of acceptance from society, estrangement and indifference in modern times, people’s attitudes towards the elderly and the collision between fantasy and reality.

2. Detailed Interpretation of Miss Brill on Concrete Themes

2.1 Loneliness
Several themes are conveyed in Miss Brill. One of them is loneliness, which is directly shown by her name, Miss Brill without her first name, indicating an isolating formality. Besides, she lives alone in a tiny apartment with no other family member. Lonely people usually have the desire to interact with anyone or just anything. So does Miss Brill. In the begging of this story, she even imagines her fur talking with her: “‘What has been happening to me?’ said the sad little eyes”. The fur seems to her a “little rogue” that “biting its tail just by her left ear”. It can be concluded that Miss Brill is so lonely that she considers her fur as a long lost friend who has been away for some time and now is coming back to her. Miss Brill’s fur, which is personified and projected with some of her own personalities and interests, symbolizes what her life really is and has become. It is through her fur that she begins to profoundly realize the loneliness and predicament in denial. Moreover, her loneliness is further obvious when she expresses her disappointment over the lack of conversation between the old man and the big old woman who shared her “special” seat for Miss Brill is always looking forward to talking to someone or being noticed by someone. The desire to...
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