To Befriend a Corpse: Symbolism of the Fur in Miss Brill

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Clinging to her neck and nearly embracing her, the lifelike fur upon Miss Brill gazes with the lifeless eyes of death. In the short story Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield, Miss Brill specifically chooses the fur to complement her attire on her special outing to the town concert. Miss Brill has few occasions to venture out of her little house, so to her this Sunday jaunt is quite the momentous event. As she watches the crowds, she happily wears her fur, yet it is apparent that the pelt serves to do more than merely adorn her. In essence, the fur worn by Miss Brill serves as a symbol of her hidden deadness, which she subconsciously tries to mask with counterfeit community, fake companionship, and fantasy. Though Miss Brill imagines that the life-like fur upon her shoulder epitomizes the excitement of the escapade, the fur itself actually serves as a symbol of various qualities of her character. To begin, the fur most strongly represents her inner deadness. Just as the fur is merely a preserved animal cadaver, so Miss Brill looks fine on the outside yet is dead and hollow within because of her isolation. Throughout the text, Miss Brill repeatedly identifies with the fur by wanting to stroke its fur, talking to it, and ascribing to it an amiable personality. Such camaraderie would perhaps be more understandable if the object of her affections was a living animal. However, considering that it is a fur, the corpse of a dead animal, she is identifying herself with a dead creature. The girl in the story says of the fur, that it looks like a fried whiting. In other words, she believes it looks like a cooked bird, like fried chicken. This description emphasizes the deadness, if not the sickly cadaverousness of Miss Brill's treasured object. In some ways, Miss Brill is herself a dead creature. She is isolated, friendless, without connection or community in which to participate as a valid contributor, yet she is filled with avid enthusiasm, emotion, passion, and wholesome...
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