With a unique blend of symbolism, imagery and setting Mansfield brings us into the world of ”Miss Brill”. The story is narrated in the third person; the narrator primarily acts as the voice of Miss Brill. By telling the story through the eyes of Miss Brill, Mansfield is able to convey to the reader the loneliness and the lack of self-awareness of the main character. She gives no explanation as to the Miss Brill’s past, leaving it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. At the same time the author provides clues from which the reader can derive the theme of this story.
The central theme of “Miss Brill” is the pain of loneliness, and inadvertent attempts to experience life through the experiences of total strangers. Miss Brill, has many symbols that clearly point out that Miss Brill is an old maid without close contacts. Firstly, Miss Brill lives in northern France teaching English. She is an immigrant everyone she knows, with the exception of her students and a elderly man, lives in England. This makes Miss Brill a stranger in a strange land despite the fact that she speaks French.
Another reason the reader can tell Miss Brill is alone stems from the title. She has never been married and therefore has no family. Also brill is French for bearded. Symbolically bearded people are old. These are some symbols that point the loneliness and age factor in Miss Brill. From the beginning of the narrative it becomes apparent that Miss Brill is starving for warmth and companionship. She tenderly caresses her fur as if it were a beloved pet when she rubs “the life into the dim little eyes” (p. 0) of the old fox boa. Another sign of Miss Brill’s need for companionship is evident in her perception of the music which the band is playing at the Jardins Publiques: “It was like some one playing with only the family to listen (p. 50). ” Despite of her loneliness, she is considering herself a part of this family that the band is entertaining with its music. But in reality she is more of an observer, a observer, and not an active participant in life as it unfolds at the Jardins Publiques.
She is looking forward to eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, believing herself to be quite an expert in remaining unnoticed. Miss Brill adopts a more critical, at times even hostile, attitude toward the women that she observes in the park than toward their male companions. She seems to view the man who shares her “special” seat as “a fine old man,” while the woman is “a big old woman (p. 50). ” When she recollects the events of the previous Sunday at the park, she remembers a patient Englishman with the difficult to please wife, whom “Miss Brill wanted to shake (p. 0). ” These observation of the women carry perhaps a note of envy that she feels toward the women who have male companionship. At this point in the story the reader still does not know much about her, except that she is a lonely observer. Then one of her observations about the “odd, silent, nearly all old people, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards! (p. 51)” whom she sees every Sunday at the park hints to the reader that she might be one of those people.
The pieces of the puzzle, of course, fall into place at the end of the story, when her room is described as “the little dark room-her room like a cupboard (p. 52). ” This is the conclusion of the story, when Miss Brill is able to see herself and her surroundings in the new light. Her new self-awareness is brought about by disparaging remarks of the young lovers who refer to Miss Brill as “that stupid old thing (p. 52),” and to her precious fur as “a fried whiting (p. 52). ” This is Miss Brill’s moment of epiphany.
She is as old as the other park-goers, her fur is a pitiful necklet, and she foregoes her usual Sunday slice of honeycake. In spite of her newly found self-awareness, Miss Brill still denies some of her own emotions when “she thought she heard something crying (p. 52)” at the very end of the story. The tears are obviously her own. Yet another look at the same lines of the story you realize that the young man and girl are repulsed by her not really because of how she is dressed but she and the other older people represent their own mortality and one day they know they too may be like this.