Is it really "okay" to talk to yourself as long as you don't talk back? Well, what if your fur piece talks back? In Katherine Mansfield's short story, "Miss Brill," it is a quickly established fact that Miss Brill has an odd relationship with her fur necklet (440). But it is the author's descriptive use of symbolism that provides a deeper understanding of Miss Brill's personality. Katherine Mansfield creates the woman in the ermine toque (441) in similarity to Miss Brill to reveal Miss Brill's identity in connection with her own fur piece and invite comparison, which further illustrates Miss Brill's perception of reality.
Introduced in the story as simply "an ermine toque" (441), Ms. Mansfield establishes the woman wearing this fur hat as a symbol that assists in defining the relationship of one-ness Miss Brill has with her own fur. Through Miss Brill's description of the woman in the ermine toque, it is clear that Miss Brill perceives the woman in connection with the fur she wears (441-442). Miss Brill compares the woman's coloring to the color of her fur by pointing out that everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes, [is] the same colour as the shabby ermine"(441). Miss Brill goes on to describe the woman's hand as being "a tiny yellowish paw" (441). And when the woman exits Miss Brill's attention, she does not walk away as a human would, but she "patters away" as a small animal might (442). Miss Brill's inability to differentiate clearly between the woman and the ermine toque she wears reinforces Miss Brill's identity in connection with her own fur. Mansfield employs this description as a technique to suggest the need to interpret Miss Brill from the descri...
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...nly a secondary symbol, it assists in enriching our understanding of Miss Brill's peculiarities while pointing out primary symbols, like her own fur necklet. How Mansfield employs the "ermine toque" to foretell the plot of the larger story demonstrates a difference between those who interact and constructively deal with conflict and those who run away, refusing to accept the realities of life. Miss Brill, who does not interact with life, chooses to interact with her fur which, though genuine, is not alive. Instead, she chooses an imitation for her own life by "sitting in other people's lives" (440) which, though reality, cannot remain her reality.
Mansfield, Katherine. "Miss Brill." Introduction to Literature: Reading, Analyzing, and Writing. 2nd ed. Ed. Dorothy U. Seyler and Richard A. Wilan. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1990. 440-43.
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