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‘Miss Brill’ by Katherine Mansfield sample essay

The short story ‘Miss Brill’ written in 1922 by Katherine Mansfield revolves around an elderly woman named Miss Brill. This particular short story is deeply influenced by Mansfield’s private life. Miss Brill is an unmarried, older English woman who lives by herself in a tiny apartment in France. She teaches English to students in France and reads the newspaper several times a week to an elderly man. The story is a reflection of Miss Brill’s inner conflicts, feelings of estrangement, loneliness and deep desire to be an important person.

The old woman in the story wants very badly to belong to a family or a group. So every Sunday she goes to a seaside park, listens to the conversations of strangers and hears the band play. Her park visits help her in coping with her loneliness and provide her with much enjoyment. She sits on a special bench every week and listens to the conversations of others. While she listens to strangers she feels included and part of their lives. She experiences a sense of communion with the strangers in the park and imagines being a family member of the band. In this way, her rose colored glasses protect her from her lonely existence and empty life.

Everything in the park is in great contrast to her actual life. The park for her is an alternate reality where she plays the part of an actress on a great stage. In reality, she is no longer important to anyone. However, in the park as an actress, her mere absence would cause great dismay to others. Her living conditions are gloomy and dark but the park that she visits is bright, sunny and filled with happiness. Her fur stole also becomes a dear pet when she visits the park. She attributes feelings and personality to the inanimate fur.

She calls it her “little rogue!” and often strokes it affectionately. Another indicator of skewed reality is the fact that Miss Brill forgets that she herself is an old, odd, silent woman who had just come out of a dark room. She puts other elder people who also visit the park every Sunday in this category but not herself. By using these defenses she feels included, important and connected to other people around her. She fools herself into believing that she has a deep purpose in life. She has unintentionally set herself up to be hurt by reality.

On one particular Sunday all her illusions are shattered. She is forced to understand her self-deception. While looking at strangers, she sees an elderly woman with a fur hat. Miss Brill can identify with this other elderly woman. She sees the other woman being met by a gentleman. Like her lonely self, the other woman is also quite excited by new company. The man pays no attention to her and instead rudely puffs into the other woman’s face. The man walks away but leaves the other woman humiliated. Miss Brill empathizes with the other woman and feels he has hurt both women equally. She quickly puts herself in her actress mode to avoid hurt and continues listening to others.

She starts paying attention to the conversation of a young couple seated besides her. The young man callously refers to her as “that stupid old thing”. He questions why the old lady comes to the park and why she strokes her stole. Instantaneously, her world of self deception is completely shattered. She finally understands that she is neither an actress on a stage nor an important part of this crowd.

She has no choice but to return to her little apartment or her dark cupboard like room. This particular Sunday she does not stop by the bakers on her way back home. She feels no need to buy herself her usual slice of honey cake. She realizes that her coping mechanisms cannot help her cope with reality forever. At last, the young man’s rude remarks had woken her up from her happy dream into her nightmarish reality.

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