Characterization of "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield

The short story “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield gives great insight into how lonely people can begin to warp their perception of the world around them, causing them to unwittingly deny their loneliness, causing their twisted perception of the world to crumble. The main character, Miss Brill, sits in the park and eavesdrops on other conversations.

She wears a fox pelt around her neck and strokes it as she listens in on other people’s conversations. She is a lonely foreigner, yet she doesn’t realize it. The lack of realization causes her to distort the world around her. Miss Brill’s eccentric disposition is revealed especially when she pulls her fur out of a box, “rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes” and personifies it. Mansfield has Miss Brill give the fur a voice and emotions, when in reality, it is an inanimate object. This description gives way to Miss Brill’s appearance and quirky disposition.

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Miss Brill continues to stroke it and carries it with her through the story, which Mansfield uses to reveal that she does not have any other friends or acquaintances in which to socialize with. This exclusion from the world around Miss Brill gives reason to why she pries on other’s conversations and behaviors. Mansfield especially uses Miss Brill’s reactions and emotions toward the conversations and actions of the other characters to characterize her. The old couple she saw gives her little emotion at first. She views them “as though they’d just come from… cupboards,” a metaphor comparing them to forgotten dishes. Mansfield uses this to add irony later on in the story.

The selection of detail that Miss Brill uses to describe the other park members shows that she is a sagacious observer. Mansfield uses the music that the band is playing in the park as a motif to parallel Miss Brill’s emotions. Throughout the story, Miss Brill listens to the band, and connects it with the situations that she observes. Miss Brill says to herself that “the band seemed to know what [the ermine toque] was feeling…” when she observes the “ermine toque”. The recurrence of the music being played by the band is what Mansfield uses to characterize Miss Brill through internal emotions that Miss Brill had yet to realize herself. Through all the characterization techniques used by Mansfield, Miss Brill becomes a character who eventually realizes the truth about herself.

Mansfield uses irony when Miss Brill “went into the little dark room- her room like a cupboard”. Incorporating the cupboard in the final revelation shows that Miss Brill realizes that she is like the old couple in the park. When Miss Brill lays the fox fur back inside its box, she puts the lid on and “thought she heard something crying.” The crying was Miss Brill herself, which is how Mansfield causes the reader to feel sympathy for her. This is also a way that the author reveals a compassionate tone. The irony, repetition, motifs, and revelations in the story cause the reader to grow with Miss Brill, causing a stronger reaction in the pathos of the reader.