In his introduction to the story, Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield, Michael Meyer says, "Mansfield tends to focus on intelligent, sensitive protagonists who undergo subtle but important changes in their lives" (226). Two key questions in Miss Brill are what kind of intelligence and sensitivity does she posses, and what is the true nature of the change that she undergoes as a result of the young man's cruel remark about her, "But why not? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there? Why does she come here at all - who wants her?" (Mansfield 229).
Miss Brill's turns her sensitivity outward rather than inward. She possesses keen eye for outward appearances and detail, but has little knowledge of inward life. As Rhoda Nathan comments, "...the genteel Miss Brill is an observer of life, one who sits on the sidelines and watches the game in all of its striving, contending, and passion" (92). This is clear from her observations of people in the park. She describes the two people who initially share her seat, the older gentleman with the carved walking stick and the big old woman with her knitting, but they do not interest her because they are not engaged in conflict (Mansfield 227). Instead, they seem perfectly happy together. In fact, most of the old people in the park do not interest her. However, the couple that sat there last week was more interesting because they were arguing. She said she needs spectacles, but when he suggested ones with gold rims, she replied, "They'll always be sliding down my nose!" a statement that irritates Miss Brill (Mansfield 227). Likewise, the brutish gentleman in gray who blows cigarette smoke in the face of the "ermine toque" also fascinates her (Mansfield...
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...Even the last line, which at first seems so poignant, is also part of the act, an overly sentimental and banal ending that masks rather than reveals the emptiness of her existence.
Mansfield, Katherine. "Miss Brill." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin, 2000. 226-229.
Meyer, Michael. "Katherine Mansfield." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. 5th ed. . Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin, 2000. 226.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Ed. Herschel Baker et. al. New York, NY. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 1680.
Toth, David. Dave's Home Page. Three Rivers Community College. 9 Oct. 2000. http://www.geocities.com/davidjohtoth/brillcrit.html.