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Depiction of Optimism and Sadness: 'Miss Brill' Character Analysis

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Most people seek to mask themselves under a false persona when faced with the world. Criticism and truth often are too harsh for people to face and instead create false narratives about their lives in search of comfort. Katherine Mansfield introduces her character ‘Miss Brill’ in her essay as a woman who is forced to confront these realities. 

From speaking to her fur coat as if it were her “rogue” companion to creating a fictional life for herself within her imagination Miss Brill seems to the reader as if she were written as a delusional character. In reality, Miss Brill is a victim to her own charade and uses it as her mask. In the short story, “Miss Brill,” by Katherine Mansfield, Miss Brill is established as an optimistic, observant and lonely character through the author’s use of narration, dialogue and actions.

Mansfield begins with indirectly characterizing Miss Brill by the way she interacts with her fur coat. The coat itself had been worn and shabby but in Miss Brill eyes it still had youth and a liveliness to it. This fur coat the reader is introduced to at the beginning of the story ultimately signifies Miss Brill herself. Katherine Mansfield explains that like the fur coat Miss Brill’s herself is past her prime and instead of living like the youthful do she’s merely existing. The fox fur Brill pulls out of the dark box in the beginning of the story is later returned to the same box towards the end of the story. This shows a direct parallel to Miss Brill herself leaving her apartment to seek to be apart of something bigger than herself and returning back to her apartment to find herself alone.

As Miss Brill curiosity grows, she continues to observe the world around her. She pays attention to the way people interact with each other. When comparing the people seated in the stands and those in the field she points out their drastic differences. On one hand the people on the field seem to be full of energy and life while the people in the stands tended to be more extroverted. Although Miss Brill is able to make these observations she fells to reflect on the fact that she too is sitting amongst the people in the stands. Similarly, when making acute observation’s on a woman’s social status based on her hat, Miss Brill is again unable to acknowledge how she herself might appear to others.

Miss Brill continues in the story to have what seems to be a revelation on humanity. She sees the world she lives in as stage and all the people she encounters as its actors. A boy and a girl replace the older couple at the parade. She immediately romanticizes them and adds them as the heroes to her play. This is where Katherine Mansfield ultimately set up the for the climax of the story by showing her audience Miss Brill’s rational and understanding of the world. A fight begins to break out between the pair and immediately start to project their anger towards Miss Brill. The specialness Miss Brill felt about her own life was damaged by the commentary made by the boy and girl on Miss Brill’s appearance and her “fried whiting” of a coat. After this encounter with the young couple, Miss Brill finally begins to observe herself and how other’s view her. Instead of continuing to look forward to the small surprise of finding an almond in her occasional honey-cake she now views herself the way the girl and boy did which is “odd, silent, and old.” The world in which she felt so included in has now in her eyes rejected her. Miss Brill proceeds to hang up her fur coat in her closet symbolizing her locking herself away from the world in a “room like a cupboard.” The author portrays this room as dark and sad and shows a direct correlation to Miss Brill’s loneliness and sadness.

To end up, though the short story started off selling Miss Brill as a naive optimist, her character gains complexity with the events in the story. Katherine Mansfield created a character in her story that most people can relate to.

A world that she had once anticipated suddenly became the thing that made her confront her sad reality. Most people seek escaping the realities of their depressing lives that it’s not until they are alone and outcasted that they are forced to confront it.   

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Depiction of Optimism and Sadness: ‘Miss Brill’ Character Analysis. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
“Depiction of Optimism and Sadness: ‘Miss Brill’ Character Analysis.” GradesFixer, 11 Feb. 2023,
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