A Character Analysis of Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill
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Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill" is a woman self-contained, not pessimistic but settled, content. She is not a victim of her circumstances, but the satisfied creator of them. You could say she has her ducks lined up the way she wants them. Through the character of Miss Brill, Katherine Mansfield reveals a woman who has the ability to enjoy a simple world of her own elaborate creation. Miss Brill is a single woman, probably in her mid to late fifties. She lives alone in a very small space without even a cat or bird. She has a collection of vintage clothing. Her physical appearance is only alluded to in the 18-paragraph short story by Mansfield, but in reading about a day in her life, one has the impression of an intelligent, sensitive woman, not bereft of human interaction, but still a woman alone. Miss Brill is not idle but leads a well-rounded existence. Weekdays she is an English teacher to French children, afternoons she does charity work, and on weekends, she engages in fantasy play.
Mansfield's narration for this story is written in third person with limited omniscience, allowing the reader access to Miss Brill's innermost thoughts and expansive imagination. In addition, the reader is able to follow her actions and see a panoramic view of Miss Brill's environment. Perhaps not the life to which a young woman would aspire, the narrator paints a quiet, satisfying existence for Miss Brill; a life designed more for a mature, dignified individual, someone comfortable in solitude. Except for her "cupboard" sized room (18), the narrator's description of Miss Brill's simple life and the personal privacy she appears to enjoy seem quite plausible. It would not be difficult to imagine her teaching her young charges, reading to the ...
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...oundest sleeper, Miss Brill's daydream ends abruptly. She is forced to see herself as others might, an old woman with her ragged fur, not part of a stage show. This hero and heroine of her fantasy are only a young couple at the local park who don't appreciate her presence.
Even so, Miss Brill faces the anticlimax with calm reception and although she slumps home crestfallen, Miss Brill is enough of a sage not to be conquered by the thoughtless comments of insensitive youngsters. Although Miss Brill is feeling blue when she closes her pet fur in its box without a loving glance, most assuredly Miss Brill and her little rogue pet will return next Sunday to their special seat in the park where she may receive her weekly dose of rejuvenation.
Meyer, Michael; the Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature; Katherine Mansfield "Miss Brill" pp 232-36
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