As humans, much of our lives are based around social interaction. We are taught to live through various means of socialization from the time of our birth . Without this socialization and interaction among each other we can become very disillusioned and confused about how to function as a part of society. One would tend to isolate ourselves, exiled in this place we call the world. In Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Miss Brill,” one such person, herself a kind of outcast of society, creates a fantasy world in which she is at the center. “Miss Brill” is the story of a woman battling with loneliness. She partakes in a ritual in which every Sunday she would spend the entire afternoon at the local park eavesdropping and observing the people around her. In her mind everyone around her is apart of her unadorned existence when in fact Brill only sits alone seemingly frantically in search of companionship. She scorns anything and anyone that may cause her to realize the truth about her pathetic existence. The story conveys a message, expressed through the character of Miss Brill, that those who do not communicate with others but idealize them, and those who do not act in the real world lose touch with reality.
Miss Brill’s character can be described as one of an idealist. The story begins as she prepares herself for her Sunday ritual in which she speaks to herself using words like “sweet” and “dear” (Mansfield 98) to describe her stole, an lifeless object. She also describes the fur as “Little Rogue” (Mansfield 98) with “sad little eyes”(Mansfield 98). One can clearly understand that the stole is an inanimate object, but through Brill’s eyes it is very alive. She even makes mention that the fur asks her, “What is happening to me?” (Mansfield 98). To give life to a fur and refer to it as “sweet” is surely idealizing that animal. Her method of giving importance to minor things like her “special seat” (Mansfield 98) illustrates a sense that she sees the world in a more positive way than her life really is. Brill lacks the companionship she desires thus turning to those everyday items to keep her composure. As Brill returns home she takes her weekly trip to the bakery where she usually stops to pick up a slice of honey cake describing it as “…her Sunday treat…” (Mansfield 101). Brill took joy in the anticipation that “If there was an almond,” in her slice of honey cake, It was like carrying home a tiny present – a surprise…” (Mansfield 101). In an attempt to make her life seem more important and extravagant than it really is, one can understand furthermore Brill’s pathetic nature. This defines Brill’s character as one of an idealist, making everyone and everything seem alive and interesting. She seems to be loosing a sense of reality and her idea what is important is somewhat warped.
Miss Brill intricately observes every little detail of the happenings around her illustrating the extent to which she has lost a grasp on reality. She makes note of everything from attire and attitudes, to body language and actions. Brill takes a kind of pride in her ability to eavesdrop. “They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – little cupboards!” (Mansfield 99). Miss Brill excludes herself from the rest of the people. Even when elderly people come into view, she quickly distances herself from them as though different when in fact she too is old and resides in a cupboard of her own. Brill associates and relates herself to only the younger and more attractive people. The people which society deems the most acceptable. “Now everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes , was the same color as the shabby ermine, and her hand, in its cleaned glove, lifted to dab her lips, was a tiny yellowish paw. Oh, she was so pleased to see him- delighted!” (Mansfield 98) Miss Brill describes her and her actions as though she herself was the woman. And as she goes on to describe the “ermines” feelings of delight as she saw the man, it seems as though Brill herself is “delighted” to see the man. Her view on the surrounding park was as though she was a spectator at a play, or as if she was an actress in a play, instead of the truth. “And Miss Brill soothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of her part…” (Mansfield 100). She seems to refuse the idea that she is just an ordinary woman, yet alone a woman of age. In turning everything ordinary into her fantasy we see Brill does not want to accept her life. She does not want to be old, neither does she want to be alone. As she comes closer to reality, as if it were instinctive to her nature, her defense mechanism is turned on. Brill is thus saved from sorrow.
Miss Brill’s character can be described as one of a tortured soul and she chooses escapism as a way to deal with burden. One can decipher that she is focused on her need for self gratification through her artificial companionship. Of course what goes up must come down, as Isaac Newton once said. As she encounters a young couple who describe her as “…the stupid old thing at the end there…” then reply “Why does she come here at all?”(Mansfield 99). Brill is faced with the harsh reality of the world in which she cannot resort to defending herself. Succumbing to reality, she cannot change this part of the world. The idea she tried so desperately to hide from, is essentially thrown at her face. The idea that salvation is thus lost is reveal as she decides to sway from her usual trip to the bakery and going home “… to her room like a little cupboard…” (Mansfield 101). At home she has to deal with her reality because there is nothing and no one she could use to dramatize her life. Brill is forced to accept the idea that she is no more significant to the world than any one she encountered in the park. She is the old person who comes from a little cupboard. She is the person which she never wanted to be and all her attempts to preserve her false image were now null. The truth has become clear to her thus having to accept sorrow.
When faced with a danger that may mar our existence, as humans we have the instinct to defend ourselves against destruction. Miss Brill’s character illustrates this human trait. Mansfield’s intent in this story was displayed through Brill. Miss Brill made no effort to communicate with others but instead observed them through a goggled imagination. She took no effort to accept what and who she is, but believed she was something different. And when she was faced to deal with the reality of the world her expectations set her on a path to disappointment. Her ideals and beliefs made her naive about the world, eventually causing her to be hurt making her realize the world is not at all a play.