In Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” the reader is given a glimpse into the life of an old English teacher living in France. Miss Brill is an old woman living in exile who enjoys going out every Sunday to listen to the band play in the park and eavesdrop into people’s conversations. Through the use of literary components such as limited 3rd person point of view and characterization, Mansfield explores how one’s self-perspective can be skewed and results in alienation. These literary components make the epiphany at the end of the story more effective.
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The limited 3rd person point of view is defined as a method of storytelling in which the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character, while other characters are presented only externally. This point of view is important to the story so that as the reader will not engage in sympathy with Miss Brill but instead observe her actions as she feigns the happiness in her life. If this story were told in 1st person, the reader would be experiencing the mind of Miss Brill as she leads herself through her fantasy life. For example, the reader would not be able to fully understand that she is viewing the world as an illusion instead of reality. At the beginning of the story, the author introduces a symbol to the readers, Miss Brill’s fur. “She had taken it out of this box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes” “What has been happening to me?” said the sad little eyes.”(p.84). This fur symbolizes a companionship that is obvious Miss Brill hasn’t had in a very long time.
Miss Brill can be described as a dynamic round character. A Dynamic character also know as a round character is a specific type of character or fictional or imagined person in a literary text. A dynamic character is usually one of the main characters, is presented in a complex and detailed manner and usually undergoes a significant change in response to the events or circumstances described in the plot. In this story the main character is Miss Brill and the author presents the reader with an indirect description of the main character. Again this is supported by the limited third person point of view. Throughout the story we are given insight into how Miss Brill lives out her lonely life by going to the park every Sunday to eavesdrop into other people’s lives as though she is trying to live vicariously through them. Through this type of description the reader can see that she lives in this world through her own fantasies. Miss Brill does not live in this reality; she lives in the world that she has seemed to have made up on her own. In the paragraph that talks about her reading to the old man “But suddenly he knew he was having the paper read to him by an actress! “An actress!” Miss Brill responds by saying “Yes, I have been an actress for a long time.”(p.86) so the reader sees she is not actually an actress, but she is trying to create her own reality. In order to be a dynamic character it is important that the character undergoes a dramatic change in response to events. This leads to the next important literary element…epiphany.
The epiphany in a story is a moment of insight, discovery, revelation or understanding that alters a character’s life in a meaningful way. Miss Brill is convinced that her style of living through others is what is helping her not deal with the obvious pain the loneliness brings to her life. However, at the end of the story the point of view changes sharply as we experience along with Miss Brill an incident that gives Miss Brill the tragic realization that she does indeed live an empty life. When a young man and his girl friend come to sit near Miss Brill they begin to insult her “No, not now,” said the girl. “Not here I can’t” “But why?” Because of that stupid thing over there?” asked the boy?” “Why does she come here at all -who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?” This changes Miss Brill’s self-esteem quickly. As the narrator comments that she bypasses her usual stop at the baker’s. Back in her room, mortified like the woman in the shabby toque, she hurriedly throws her fur in the box without looking at it as the full shock of her rejection strikes. (White).
To summarize, one can see that this story can only be told in limited 3rd person point of view because had to story been told in 1st person the revelation at the end of the story when Miss Brill is forced to look at the reality of her life would have had a different impact on the reader. For example, the reader might have had pity toward the character instead of understanding the theme that Mansfield was going for… alienation. Then one can see that the characterization throughout the story gives the reader direct insight into Miss Brill’s psyche. Finally, we can see that Miss Brill’s eyes are finally opened to how other people view her. This instance changes her completely in that she doesn’t follow her usual routine. But goes home to throw her fur in a box and hears a “faint cry” when she closes the lid. As if she herself is living through the fur.
Mansfield, Katherine. “Miss Brill.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 6th Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 84-87. Print.
White,Terry, “Miss Brill: Character Study.” Masterplots 2: Short Story Series, Revised Edition” (2004): Salem Press. Web. 21 Jan 2010.
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