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“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield Essay


Symbolism is used in literature to denote a deeper meaning beyond the usual meaning of words. It can be used to characterize a situation or a person in a story to signify a hidden, concealed, or camouflaged meaning. For example, thunderstorm in a scene signifies troubled times or a catastrophe in the making. On the other hand, animals can be used to symbolize the character of a person. For instance, a pig is used to symbolize gluttony.

In the story ‘Mrs. Brill’ by Katherine Mansfield, symbolism is used to reveal the fantasy propagated by the main character due to her loneliness and lack of contact or interactions with humanity. The character is portrayed through symbolism as an elderly woman living her sunset years in an unreal world that is soon shattered by the harsh realities of life.

When we encounter Mrs. Brill, she is excited. The weather symbolizes the joviality felt by the protagonist. The fine weather portrays to us the mood and sense of happiness that the character is brimming with, as she is smugly satisfied with her existence. She is under the illusion that her life is as perfect as the weather.

She is also happy at having retrieved her fur from its box, which is a symbol of the longing the character is having for adventure and the expectations of life. The fur reminds her of better days. She refers to it as ‘Dear little thing’ to signify her attachment to it (182).

This attachment can be seen as a symbol of the protagonist’s pride in herself. It symbolizes what the character feels about herself and her life in general. Mrs. Brill has managed to convince herself that the fur is still in good condition despite its age just as her life is happy and eventful, though she has advanced in years.

The fur also symbolizes the change or transformation of Mrs. Brill. At first, the elderly woman is proud of it, just as she is happy with her state of life. Although it is old, she believes it can be refurbished to become as attractive as before. This can be seen as the opinion of the old woman about herself.

She seems to feel that her age has not affected the quality of her live, and she is still enjoying her life despite her age. Talking to the fur also symbolizes someone who lacks someone to talk to, and is left with no alternative but to address and hold a conversation with her property.

This fantasy is maintained in her mind until she is brought down to earth through a disparaging remark made by a young woman concerning the fur. This disappoints the old woman that she deviates from her normal routine. She does not make her usual bakery stop but returns to her room that is characterized as a cupboard. The cupboard is used to symbolize loneliness and desolation. The darkness of the cupboard symbolizes the depression that surrounds Mrs. Brill’s life. Hearing Mrs.

Brill crying further symbolizes the hopelessness of her situation as no one has ever referred to her by her name (186). She is not accustomed to being called, so she does it herself, referring to herself in the third party. This is a symbolism of detachment from reality and unwillingness to associate her name with herself. Her crying also marks the dawning of the harsh reality of life on her.

The author uses symbolism to show that the protagonist is living in fantasy and denial. She does this by the portrayal of Mrs. Brill as a silent busybody who likes to be privy to other people’s affairs. Though she has no friends, she dabbles in other people’s lives by eavesdropping on their conversations.

She considers herself superior to the people around her. By depicting the life around her as a play, she can convince herself of her superiority and use the orchestra playing to weave a make-believe play that satisfies her sense life. The orchestra’s tune symbolizes to the elderly woman the richness of her existence with the start of the season portending exciting times with the appearance of strangers. To the readers, this symbolizes a lonely life without worthwhile activities. Her routine of walks in the park shows scarcity of other activities.

The story’s title is also full of symbolism. It creates a picture of a lonely old Englishwoman living her last years cut off from contact with her family and other people. It portrays an unmarried woman who is a former teacher of a kindergarten. In her retirement, the title symbolizes that she is too formal, withdrawn, and does not form friendships easily.

Although we may feel sorry for her, it is in her character to rub people the wrong way and coupled with her unsocial behavior of eavesdropping and superior attitude; it no wonders no one warms up to her. The woman is also given just her surname to symbolize that she has no friends and no close acquaintance apart from a sick man that she reads to sometimes. The invalid is incapable of conversations, let alone interactions and relationships.

By wearing fur in warm weather to show off, it symbolizes the pomposity of the character. She seems to care what people think of her through her appearance and not her character. Indeed, she emphasizes appearance symbolizing someone who considers herself to have good tastes and better judgment; thus, the social superiority attitude to those around her.

Her description of others is dominated by their appearance, which to her symbolizes good upbringing and the character or disposition of someone. Her fascination with appearance makes it deeply hurting when the young couple she considered decent and likable turn on her and make unflattering remarks about her and her fur.

In conclusion, Katherine Mansfield effectively uses symbolism to bring out the theme of her story ‘Mrs. Brill’. The fur in this story is used as a symbol of the life of Mrs. Brill. It depicts the transformation of the attitude of the protagonist concerning her life.

At first, she is excited with the fur, complimenting it on its versatility and endurance, only to be deeply disappointed when she overhears it being described scathingly by a young couple. This is a symbol of her life that she thought was happy only for reality to intrude and reveal her loneliness. Symbolism is used to show how loneliness had fed the old woman’s illusions only for reality to harshly reveal itself.

Works Cited

Mansfield, Katherine. Miss Brill. Berlin: Reclam Verlag Leipzig, 2001

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/miss-brill-by-katherine-mansfield/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield'. 28 April.

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