The Sinkable Miss Brill
In Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Mrs. Brill” relations between the authors’ compassionate tone and the cheery point of view of the main character create a broad conflict. Miss Brill, who spends her Sundays sitting in the Jardins Publique [public gardens or park] living life through the eyes of people she does not know, sometimes imagines that everyone at the park performs like they are in a play including her. Decidedly happy with her own character in this ‘play’, Miss Brill watches the other performers while mentally critiquing acting styles; these are actually the attitudes or feelings of other people in the park. Though enamored by the bourgeois, her inability to tell her English class about her brilliant afternoons in the park offers readers the first clues to Miss Brill’s true embarrassment about the part her character plays to the bands jovial tunes in the garden on Sundays.
Mansfield, Kate. “Miss Brill.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed Kennedy, X.J. and Gioi, Dana. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. 393-396.
Throughout the story Miss Brills’ flamboyant imagination suggests that she is truly content with her misfortune. An older unmarried woman at a time when peasant women walk through the park “leading beautiful smoke-colored donkeys,” (Mansfield 8) Miss Brill remains stoic. Her enjoyment of the band, her thrill upon seeing the conductor’s new coat, the delusion Miss Brill has about the “special” seat in the ‘public’ garden, and especially her eye for fashion all imply an enthusiastic outlook on life on the part of Miss Brill.
On the contrary, some Sundays Miss Brill sits alone in the park without engaging conversations and lacking someone to share her happy moments, her romantic genius. Miss Brill always looks forward to the banter of others, in fact she cherishes it and doesn’t wish to share those moments with students she teaches or the old man she reads the newspaper with in the afternoon; neither would understand her active imagination. She will eavesdrop on the conversations of other park goer’s though, if those that sit near her do not speak to her, she practices keeping a straight face so it appears that she minds her own business when she actually listens eagerly to everything said. On Sundays she acts like the beauty of the world fulfills her aspirations.
However, on the Sunday that Miss Brill proudly wears an animal fur to the park, an animal fur she treats like a long forgotten companion; she hears a young couple laughs at the way “it’s exactly like a fried whiting.”(Mansfield 14) Of course, she acts like she cannot hear them; but finally, something breaks through Miss Brill’s idealistic attitude! Her cheery disposition sours; she realizes that she is just like many of the other people she sees at the park, “odd, silent, nearly all old.” Unable to play her part in the park, Miss Brill goes home that evening and unlike most Sundays on the way she does not stop for honey cake hoping for a slice with an almond sliver on it. She will not put the kettle on the stove with titillating excitement. She will simply throw her companion into the box it lay in while waiting for a friend.
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