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Literature Paper on Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

Literature Paper on Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

Miss Brill is a short narrative written by Katherine Mansfield. The book was published in November 1920 by the Athenaeum publishers and later reprinted by the Garden Party and other stories. Mansfield has written this story in the third person narrative and used Miss Brill as the main protagonist. Since Mansfield told the story through the eyes of a protagonist, she was able to inform the readers about the protagonist’s loneliness and absence of self-awareness (Mansfield, n.p). Subsequently, Mansfield does not offer detailed explanations about Miss Brill’s past hence leaving it upon the readers to conclude. The author further offers detailed insights concerning Miss Brill’s lifestyle and character hence effectively communicating the main theme in this story. In this narrative, Mansfield presents the central theme of loneliness and the inadvertent attempts that one may make by enjoying different experiences in life with total strangers (Mansfield, n.p). Throughout the novel, Miss Brill is surrounded with loneliness although people around her do not understand her situation. The essay is an analysis of how Miss Brill’s story teaches us about empathy to others in society.

From the beginning of the story, it is evident that Miss Brill is deficient in warmth and companionship. Mansfield uses fur as an example to indicate how Miss Brill rubs on the fur tenderly as if it was a beloved pet. Additionally, Miss Brill’s desire to have company is evidenced in the perception she had of the music that the band was playing. She notes that the people playing that music were like playing it for family members only to listen (Mansfield, n.p). Although Miss Brill is lonely, she still considers herself part of the family that the band was entertaining. However, in the real sense, she was just an observer and not an active participant in life as it unfolded in the Jardins Publiques (Mansfield, n.p). On most occasions, Miss Brill looks forward to eavesdropping on other people’s conversations because she always goes unnoticed. Using Miss Brill as an example, Mansfield presents the challenges that most individuals who are lonely face when they make attempts to live their lives vicariously and insidiously with others members in their surroundings. On most occasions, most lonely individuals strive to uncover different fulfillments in life by experiencing pleasures in life through interactions with others. Circumstances and misfortunes that were evident when Miss Brill was born played a major role in contributing to her existing in loneliness out of school hours (Mansfield, n.p). Due to the loneliness, she is experiencing, Miss Brill is unable to admit to her pupils how she spends her free time over the weekends.

The loneliness that Miss Brill experiences offer a reflection of how the years leading up to the early 1920s were not easy for women. During this period, the traditionalist’s view was widely raged an aspect that made it easy for women to be oppressed in that society. Since Miss Brill was a single woman, she couldn’t live her life while enjoying the necessary freedom. Since oppression was deeply grounded in that society, it laid a foundation for her living vicariously through the lives of other individuals (Mansfield, n.p). The society she lived in greatly limited her opportunities to find fulfillment in her life and environment since the society constricted what she could or could not do through stipulated norms.

According to Kidd and Castano (2013), understanding the mental states of other individuals is an important aspect that lays a foundation for enabling the complex social relationships that are key in most human societies (Castano and Kidd, 377). Using this as an example, Miss Brill holds a theory about the world and offers insights about how she spends her life. Miss Brill is frustrated about different things happening in her life including employment. Using her theory about the world enables her to imagine that although she may be reading to someone and he ignores, she is optimistic that she is destined to achieve greater things. Self-delusion becomes evident to Miss Brill when she begins developing self-justifying and protective thoughts which she does not realize. Although she has not given details about her fur coat, the ideas she holds about the universe play a significant role in revealing the deep connection between every person in society.

Miss Brill, has adopted different strategies to ensure that she does not face unpleasant aspects in her life. For instance, when she settles at the special bench in the park, she touches the fur surrounding her neck an aspect that makes her get confronted with the fur’s presence. She relates the pets to some companionable pet since she notes that “she could have taken it off and laid it on her lap only to stoke it.”(Mansfield, n.p). Miss Brill ignores the reality in life and attaches a lot of importance to the lifeless fur. Miss Brill also talks about her coat an aspect that is suggestive to the readers that she might be crazy. Although the precision of her observations makes it evident that she is not crazy by bringing her cat out and rubbing it.  Since Miss Brill is curious about everything surrounding her, she pays close attention to the world around her and notices the everyday interactions individuals have with each other (Mansfield, n.p). The observation that she has about people in the stands shows and the fields is different. Every person in the field is lively while those in the stands are lonely and old. At this point, Miss Brill notices that life has passed most of the old people in the Stands.

Mansfield presents us with a scene of Miss Brill standing alone in the Stands. However, an old man and old woman come and sit next to her although they are not talking to each other. Based on the observation that she makes, she finds a way of including herself in their company. She views every person in the stands as not audiences but performers. She links herself to be part of the production and it was easy to notice her if she was absent. For instance, she notes “I have been an actress for a long time.” (Mansfield, n.p). Using this statement as an example, Miss Brill believes that she is one of the performers in the band.

At the beginning of the story, the boy and girl seem to be so perfect and welcoming to Miss Brill. However, when the girl and boy turn out to be arguing where the boy seems to be wanting something while the girl states that not here, Miss Brill makes a realization about the romantic idealization of love. Due to the disappointment the boy received, he lashes out with anger at Miss Brill hence making her feel alienated from society. Throughout the conversation, Miss Brill only talks about her fur coat. Although the boy and girl were initially welcoming to her, she experiences a lot of pain when she overhears the boy and girl mocking her fur coat. The boy and girl mocked her coat as old and shabby hence she did not deserve to sit next to them (Mansfield, n.p). At first, although Miss Brill believed that she belonged to the community in which she was residing in. However, the statement made by the boys makes her feel rejected hence she decides to retreat to her apartment and lonely life. Through her intense urge to connect with other individuals in society, she becomes vulnerable and ends up realizing the alienation she experienced from people she believed were her source of life and excitement.

In conclusion, Mansfield evokes empathy for Miss Brill through her acts of loneliness, vulnerability, and alienation. Miss Brill’s vulnerability emerges when she exposes herself to the illusions that she develops while at the garden scene. Additionally, Miss Brill’s alienation is highlighted throughout the story hence making it easy to empathize with her. When the boy and girl made a mockery out of her fur coat, she feels that she is not part of that community hence she decides to go back to her lonely life in her apartment. Using Miss Brill as an example, we must always be willing to empathize with others and give them the assistance they require.

Works Cited


Castano Emanuele and David Kidd. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” 18 Oct. 2013; 342 (6156): 377-80.

Mansfield, Katherine. Miss Brill. Penguin UK, 2015.


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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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