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


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Symbolism: Miss Brill

Symbols in Miss Brill
Symbols found in Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill"


Easily one of her most treasured items in her wardrobe, the fox symbolizes both Miss Brill's physical and mental states. The fox is said to be old, dusty, and badly in need of a "good brush". It is as if like the old people in the park (and as we later learn Miss Brill herself), it had been kept away in a cupboard. Beyond her physical state, the fox also represents her metal state. The fox is personified to reflect her disconnection from her emotions. The fox's eyes for example seem to ask "What is happening to me?", and like an animal lacking self awareness it "bites its own tail". We later learn that these feelings of despair are actually Miss Brill's, as she struggles with identifying and confronting her pitiful state. Although she is clearly hurt from the incident involving the young couple, she refuses to acknowledge it,and instead believes she "heard something crying". She is unable to truly accept her status in life, and therefore projects all her negative emotions onto the fox fur.


Clothing to Miss Brill is clearly important, as the first thing we are introduced to regarding her identity is her fox fur. The extreme value given to people's clothing radiates throughout, as Miss Brill identifies the people she takes a particular interest in by their clothing. For example she notices two women in red meet with two soldiers in blue. She takes a keen interest in the ermine toque (which is a kind of fur hat without a brim), who speaks with a man in dressed in grey. It is not unusual that Miss Brill places such great importance on clothing, considering that she places a high value on physical appearance, and the importance of "looking the part". It all ties into her need to project a certain image to those around her (she believes she is critical to the happenings at the park), and the belief that others are like her in that manner. 
While Miss Brill is presented as the only person who judges identity through clothing, it is later shown that others also judge her based on her clothing. The young couple who insults her makes mention of her physical appearance by describing Miss Brill as old, and describes her fur as "funny". This is a sort of social commentary that shows that this idea of inferring one's identity through clothing is not unique to Miss Brill at all, and is actually a very human practice. Ironically as much as Miss Brill seeks to be viewed as exceptional from everyone else, she is really like everyone else around her, simply being one among many.

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