In-depth analysis of some of the most popular short stories including summaries, character analysis, narrative technique, symbolism and much more.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Miss Brill: The Importance of The Ermine Toque

The Importance of the Ermine Toque in Miss Brill
Image courtesy of Suzseams

Who is the Ermine Toque?

A Random Girl in the Park

The story does not go into details about the background of the Ermine Toque (so called because she was wearing an ermine toque hat pictured above). One possibility is she is simply a random park visitor, who like everyone else, is enjoying the park festivities. This, however, is literature, and random simply does not exist. Based on the fact that she has almost an entire paragraph dedicated to her interaction with the "gentleman in grey" means that next to Miss Brill she is probably the most important character in the short story.

A Prostitute? 

One of the most popular theories about the identity of the Ermine Toque is that she is prostitute who is soliciting a very uninterested man. Her reaction to his rejection is seen as proof of this. The narrator notes that, "while she was still talking and laughing, [he] flicked match away and walked on." The Ermine Toque reacts to this by simply moving on to someone more intriguing, which would suggest that she is going about and offering her services. Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Compositon Expert at, notes, that Miss Brill seems unaware of her possible profession, and it is never truly confirmed what her (the ermine toque) intentions are.

Importance to the story of Miss Brill

A Symbol

Clothing is highly symbolic throughout the story. Miss Brill describes almost everyone she takes a keen interest in based on their clothing. From the "two young girls in red" to the "gentlemen in grey" clothing to Miss Brill is one's identity, and explains why she has such a strong attachment to her old fox fur. The Ermine Toque brings across this point, as she is also described based on her clothing, her "shabby ermine and gloves".


Miss Brill describes the Ermine Toque as chatting away with a "gentleman in grey" who leaves while she is still talking. This incident foreshadows the eventual rejection Miss Brill will face when the young couple mocks her presence at the park, and she later leaves feeling rejected by the very thing she holds dear, her status among the park's visitors.


The comparison and contrast of Miss Brill and the Ermine Toque is hard to ignore, since even Miss Brill seems to identify with woman. They are both described by their old worn clothing, Miss Brill by her fox fur, the Ermine Toque by her ermine toque. They both face rejection from people in the park, Miss Brill  from the young couple, the Ermine Toque from the "gentleman in grey". It is important to note, however, that they handle this rejection very differently, with Miss Brill descending even deeper into depression, while the Ermine simply moves on to something more intriguing.

Social Commentary

It is also possible that the Ermine Toque is simply a form of social commentary used by Katherine Mansfield, to shed light on society's treatment of outcasts. Miss Brill mocks the old people in the park, but is also later mocked herself by the young couple. She describes the old man she reads to during the week as "invalid", and the "funny old man...was nearly knocked  over by four girls walking abreast." All this is in line with the rejection faced by the Ermine Toque who is left alone when the man she is conversing with, leaves while she is still speaking. The park is a microcosm of society, and Katherine Mansfield brings our attention to the rejection faced by people society deems unimportant.


  1. Hi, today at literature class i mentioned the whole idea about the ermine toque which is similar to what is written here. But my teacher didn't have the same idea and made fun of me somehow. She implied that the ermine toque is actually Miss brill herself in her imagination And her reason was that ermine toque is the only person that she focused on more during the time she's in the park ( she describes her hair color and clothing more precisely ) and that later on she realizes that everything is like a play. So how can i convince her? Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for the great analysis. It helped a lot!