by Cynthia R.
Written by Katherine Mansfield, “Miss Brill” is a short story in which the narrator is a nonparticipant who sees into the mind of the major character. The narrator writes through a stream of consciousness point of view in order for the audience to see into the mind of Miss Brill as the story shows how lonely she is in the fake world she has created for herself. Mansfield uses techniques such as interruption, exclamation points, and segments that flow in order to show the way Miss Brill’s mind works and ultimately to convey the point that Miss Brill is lonely no matter how much she tries to fit in.
Beginning with the very first sentence in the text, it is clear that the short story is filled with interruption which is used to show how Miss Brill’s mind works. Through the use of dashes, the narrator inserts bits of information that add to the story and show what Miss Brill is thinking about on a particular subject. When talking about Miss Brill at the park, the narrator says that, “when she breathed, something light and sad- no, not sad, exactly-something gentle seemed to move into her bosom.” The use of interruption shows how the mind works, particularly Miss Brill’s mind when contemplating her true emotions. Not only does this passage show how Miss Brill is beginning to feel but it also foreshadows more sadness that comes later in the story. When the narrator is describing the band, he says, “that what they played was warm, sunny, yet there was just a faint chill- a something, what was it?- not sadness- no, not sadness, a something that made you want to sing.” Even though Miss Brill is surrounded with people and music, lingering behind all of that is something that keeps her from being completely content. As the members of the company gather to sing, it is clear that Miss Brill is very emotional as the narrator says, “Yes, we understand, we understand, she thought- though what they understood she didn’t know.” Miss Brill wanted to fit in with the crowd and to be accepted by them but where they really accepting her, or were they just understanding her desire to not feel lonely but to feel connected to them?
Another technique used to convey Miss Brill’s inner thoughts is the use of exclamation points and question marks. Most often than not, when there symbols are used, they signify a thought on Miss Brill’s part. A perfect example of this is when Miss Brill is looking at the band and thinks, “Wasn’t the conductor wearing a new coat, too?” In this passage and in many others, Miss Brill pays close attention to what the other people in the park are wearing. She mainly criticizes others with an air of arrogance as if she were better than most of them. Towards the end of the story, however, the reader finds out that Miss Brill is far from the wealthy upper-class woman she either portrays or would like to be. While sitting and people-watching in the park, Miss Brill looks at some people and feels that they are,” odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just some from dark little rooms or even- even cupboards!” This passage is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Miss Brill criticizes others for looking old when later on in the text, she is referred to as a “silly old thing” with an “old mug”. Second, Miss Brill looks down upon the possible living conditions of the other people in the park when in the end she goes home to “ a little dark room- her room like a cupboard.” Third, the exclamation point is symbolic of the way the human mind works; sometimes one searches for the right word when suddenly it comes to mind like a light bulb going off.
The flow of the words in the text also help show stream of consciousness as the narrator tries to convey Miss Brill’s thoughts and as the author tries to demonstrate how Miss Brill could be lonely while being surrounded by people in the park. One example of this flow is when Miss Brill is watching a couple in the park and the narrator says, “Oh she (the young lady) was pleased to see him-delighted! She rather thought they were going to meet that afternoon. She described where she’d been- everywhere, here, there, along by the sea. They day was so charming- didn’t he agree?” Not only does the text rhyme, but it also has a soft and tranquil flow; like that which a person in love might feel. As Miss Brill continues to watch the people in the park, her thoughts are expressed as the narrator writes, “Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she enjoyed sitting here watching it all!” In the first quote, the reader can feel that tranquil feeling Miss Brill gets as she watched the two lovers and in the second quote the audience can sense Miss Brill’s excitement to be people-watching. More important than showing her feelings, these two passages symbolize how needy and lonely Miss Brill truly is. She gets her pleasure not from talking to others but simply from watching them, which alludes to her loneliness. The fact that she criticizes some of them shows that she feels (or wants to feel) in the same place as the wealthier and more upper class people in the park.
In conclusion, Mansfield’s narrator uses stream of consciousness to let the audience in on Miss Brill’s inner thoughts. Mansfield uses interruption, questions, exclamations, and a different types of flow to show how Miss Brill’s mind works and ultimately to demonstrate how lonely and needy she is. In the last sentence of the story, Mansfield writes, “But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.” This line demonstrates not only that Miss Brill finally understands that she is lonely but that she is finally accepting it and will stop trying to portray someone she is not. Ultimately, this alludes to a bigger idea that sometimes people have a need to feel connected to and accepted in society, only to realize that they may not be and having to face it.