In her short story “Miss Brill,” Katherine Mansfield investigates a case of perception versus reality in which Miss Brill’s imagination distorts her outlook on the world. Miss Brill, an elderly, isolated, and naïve woman, finds entertainment in observing the lives of others. She imagines herself and the people around her as part of a great theatrical play, each with a specific role. However, she becomes so caught up with her whimsical view on life that the wave of reality demoralizes her. Through Miss Brill’s perspective, Mansfield demonstrates the effects isolationism has on the mind and the misconceptions of an imagination that results from such solitude.
In the beginning of the story, Mansfield describes Miss Brill’s affinity for her fur. She calls it a “dear little thing,” stroking it lovingly and placing it around her neck while preparing for her Sunday outing to the Jardin Publiques, French for Public Gardens. This fur represents her imaginative mind. As she takes the fur out of its box and “rub[s] the life back into the dim little eyes,” she also metaphorically releases her imagination from the confines of a box - her physical solitude at home. She ventures outside to the garden where her imagination can fly freely; the Jardin Publiques provides an array of colorful scenes that contrast greatly with the usual dullness of living alone. She feels “a tingling in her hands and arms” as she walks outside, an excitement for leaving the physical isolation.
Miss Brill, however, remains socially isolated with no companions on her excursion. This forces her to find entertainment in her own imagination and other people’s conversations. She becomes “quite an expert…at sitting in other people’s lives...
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...ittle dark room” and reverts in physical isolation. She “unclasp[s] the necklet quickly, quickly, without looking” and places it inside a box. Symbolically, she represses her imaginative mind, for it led her to believe in her creation of her distorted reality. As she places the box away, she “hear[s] something crying” – her imagination, crushed and weeping from the painful reality.
Miss Brill’s solitude causes her imagination to seek new heights and create an illusionary perception of life, making her view the garden as a theatrical play rather than its actual state. The “heroes’” comments stop her hallucination, and she realizes her true role as a mere observer in a busy crowd, not as an actress on a grand stage. Through Miss Brill’s abrupt cognizance of reality, Mansfield illuminates the effects of an imaginative perception on life that comes from isolation.
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