A Literary Analysis of Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill Essay
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In "Miss Brill," Katherine Mansfield describes an aging English teacher living in France who visits the Public Gardens every Sunday to listen to the band play and observe the other park visitors. On this particular Sunday, Miss Brill notices that it is just cool enough to unpack her favorite fur. She has not worn the fur in a long time and is delighted to wear it again. When she reaches the park she sits on her favorite bench and proceeds to observe the people around her and listen to the band. She is enjoying herself and living in her imagination, when a young couple intrudes on her fantasy and make hurtful comments that upset her. The comments cause her to end her fantasy prematurely and go straight home to her small…show more content…
Instead of listening to the couple she sits and watches as people walk by and observes the children as they run and laugh in front of flower beds. As she sits observing the people and enjoying the park's atmosphere, she notices as lonely lady is being rejected by a gentleman and imagines that the band performing in the background serves as the perfect accompaniment as it begins to play in low grumbling tones. She thinks, "But even the band seemed to know what she was feeling and played more softly, played tenderly, and the drum beat, "The Brute! The Brute!" over and over." Then, the as same lonely lady "raised her hand as though she'd seen someone else much nicer" Miss Brill notices that the band changes and plays "more gaily than ever." At the end, when the young couple insults Miss Brill and her favorite fur, she returns home to her "little dark room - her room like a cupboard" and sits down on the red eiderdown covering on her bed for a long time, then begins to quickly place her fur back into its box, which is in essence how she seems to feel about herself.
Miss Brill's fur, with its "dim little eyes", nose "that wasn't at all firm", and mouth that bites "its tail just by her left ear," assumes human characteristics in the story. Miss Brill refers to it as her ''Little rogue''. When its eyes ask the question, "What has been happening to me?" it seems to be asking a question that Miss Brill is not able to ask of
Mansfield’s influence on the structure of the short story is comparable to that of her more famous contemporary James Joyce on the novel. Crucial to each is a sense that point of view must be controlled from within the character and that the elusiveness of life’s meaning can be captured through an epiphanic moment. Here, mental access has been restricted to Miss Brill, but mere selective omniscience cannot account for the artfulness of the technique. The manipulation of time is important because the story tends toward the exploration of a few moments in a character’s life.
These highly compressed moments, therefore, reveal psychological time instead of clock-time, and they are everywhere marked by Miss Brill’s colloquialisms and features of her private language. Mixed with this language, however, is the narrator’s phraseology (narrated monologue), so that even the most neutral observations are reinforced by a kind of lyric intensity: “And sometimes a tiny staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open from under the trees, stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down ’flop,’ until its small high-stepping mother, like a young hen, rushed scolding to its rescue.” It is this rich mixture of interior monologue, narrated monologue, and narrator summary that enables the reader to perceive the very reality Miss Brill seeks to deny in her fantasies.
Like Joyce, Mansfield rejected an intrusive commentary, allowing the reader to form a reaction to the character in more subtle ways. As Miss Brill reflects on the past, or once, notably, anticipates a future time in the imagined dialogue with her reading companion, she reveals herself and her anxieties most fully. Using Miss Brill’s eyes to look outward on the world of the story enables the narrator to infuse her vision with a stronger vision so that themes of isolation, exile, and aging in a hostile world appear to evolve naturally from the character herself.
In this way, the intermingling of scene, narrator summary (or withdrawal), and the modes of Miss Brill’s mental life work in harmony to preserve the flavor of Miss Brill’s own phraseology and to keep the narrative fabric smooth and seamless. The end result is that Miss Brill’s life tends toward a moment in which she can no longer deny the reality she so greatly fears.