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Critique of "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield

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Kathleen Mansfield Murry is known to be a prominent New Zealand Modernist short story writer who wrote stories under the pen name Katherine Mansfield. Miss Brill was published in the 1920’s and is set in post-World War I in France. In “Miss Brill,” Katherine Mansfield introduces readers to a reserved, solitary woman who likes to eavesdrop on strangers, who looks at a fur coat her dearest friend and sometimes she imagines herself as an actress.

The theme in the story “Miss Brill” is how loneliness and a sense of rejection can cause an individual to be unable to differentiate perception and reality. This is made very clear in the way that Miss Brill views and perceives the world in a rather positive and play-like way. At the start of the narrative, we see Miss Brill taking out a fur and “rubbing the life back into the dim little eyes”. In a sense, this fur represents Miss Brill; she is putting some excitement into her life and starting her day off positively. And so, as she heads to the gardens, she engages in everything around her, noticing little, apparently insignificant, details. She loves this view of her Sundays and she tends to create narratives in her head about everyone that passes her. Thus, we see how Miss Brill creates this ideal environment around her by twisting what is actually surrounding her. It can be reasoned that this mentality is a consequence of the woman’s loneliness and, as seen later in the story, her sense of rejection. The story has a rise in action when the young girl refuses to do something for her lover because Miss Brill is watching. The story reaches its climax when Miss Brill overhears the young couple talk about wanting Miss Brill to leave and they make fun of Miss Brill fur. After learning that, Miss Brill leaves and walks back to her “cupboard” which refer to a dark room. In the end, Miss Brill puts the fur back into the box and, as she does this, she thinks she can hear it crying. In this instance, one can see how Miss Brill’s loneliness and misconception of reality has led to a harsh dose of reality, ultimately leading to the woman’s sense of rejection. One can also assume that this is not the first time Miss Brill has encountered rejection, which has led to her reserved personality.

The physical context of Miss Brill is in France during the 1920’s. The story takes place in a popular park with a band that plays every Sunday. The emotional scene of the story is set around loneliness and judgment. In this story, Miss Brill is a protagonist as the story is focused on her and her weekly visit to the park. The young love couple is conveyed as an antagonist as they cause the conflict in the story. Everyone else in the park such as the old couple on the bench, the young women and the soldiers, as well as the little kids running around are minor characters.

Katherine Mansfield’s story is written in Third Person Limited Omniscient point of view. This point of view allows readers into Miss Brill’s mind and was the right choice in order to convey Mansfield’s message of the story. If readers were not able to know Miss Brill’s thoughts and feelings and to hear and see what she hears and sees, the same aspects could not be conveyed. For example, by only knowing Miss Brill’s thoughts, the author was able to create this fake world in the Miss Brill’s eyes, which, ultimately, lead to an in-depth understanding of her loneliness and inability to differentiate perception and reality. For this story, this choice of point of view was imperative.

Mansfield uses a few examples of symbolism throughout her story “Miss Brill”. For one, the orchestra and the songs they play are symbolic of Miss Brill’s feelings throughout her time at the park. When Miss Brill sees and senses happy individuals in the park, she says that the band played “more quickly, more gaily than ever”. This helps to demonstrate Miss Brill’s inner thoughts. The symbolism shown in this story is very helpful in representing Miss Brill on a deeper, more emotional level.

From this story which showed how perception can be different from reality and judging people on perception could very well make them feel rejected and lonely. One can conclude that our perception of reality can often be misjudged due to personal circumstances. In addition, one can learn from this story the harsh reality that society is not as forgiving and caring, as we all desire it to be. There are many Miss Brill in this world and while they must learn to reach out and see reality, the people on the outside must appreciate that they do not know everyone’s story and background. Those individuals must learn to be accepting of others regardless of their circumstances. The true message of this story is that our own inner-selves are our toughest battle; if we are not comfortable with ourselves we cannot be comfortable with our surroundings. This will, therefore, ultimately lead to an inability to differentiate perception and reality, forcing one to learn the hard way what true reality is.

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Critique of “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield. (2018, October 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
“Critique of “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield.” GradesFixer, 22 Oct. 2018,
Critique of “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Mar. 2023].
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