An In-Depth Analysis of Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill"

Categories: Short Story


Katherine Mansfield's short story, "Miss Brill," exemplifies how a writer can employ various literary techniques to provide readers with a deeper understanding of the central character, Miss Brill. Instead of explicitly conveying the story's message, Mansfield skillfully employs literary elements to enable readers to draw their own conclusions about the character's psyche and experiences. This process of revealing essential character traits and qualities through literary techniques is known as characterization. This essay will delve into four prominent literary techniques utilized by Mansfield in "Miss Brill": symbolism, setting, allusion, and points of view presented through different characters.

Symbolism: Miss Brill and Her Fur

Symbolism plays a pivotal role in deciphering the character of Miss Brill. The profound relationship between Miss Brill and her fur coat is a prime illustration of this literary technique. Symbolism involves an element representing more than its literal meaning; it operates on two levels of significance. For instance, Miss Brill's fur coat is both a physical object and a symbol for Miss Brill herself.

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The fur represents the life and vitality that Miss Brill seeks to restore during her outings to the park. As she tenderly rubs "the life back into [her fur's] dim little eyes," it becomes evident that these excursions serve as a means to rejuvenate her own spirit. The condition of the fur's eyes serves as a metaphor for Miss Brill's own perceived lack of vitality, with the park visits acting as her remedy.

Furthermore, the fur symbolizes Miss Brill's profound need for belonging and connection.

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Her happiness aligns with the fur's contentment, and insults directed at the fur also wound Miss Brill personally. This symbiotic relationship is epitomized when Miss Brill, back in her apartment, thinks she hears "something crying." Instead of confronting the sadness and disappointment stemming from her recent experience, she externalizes her emotions onto the fur, shifting the focus away from herself.

Setting: Miss Brill's Identity in Relation to Her Environment

The setting of "Miss Brill" plays a pivotal role in shaping the character's identity. As Miss Brill navigates the park, she feels increasingly connected to her surroundings, viewing herself and others as participants in a weekly theatrical production. Her perception of self in relation to the environment undergoes a drastic transformation when she overhears the young couple ridiculing her. Initially, she is upbeat and content while observing fellow parkgoers. However, after being subjected to mockery, her mood plummets, and she returns to her apartment with a sense of desolation.

Miss Brill's identification with the park and her belief in her role as an integral player in its Sunday performance demonstrates her desire for inclusion and significance within her chosen environment. This connection to the setting allows her to craft a self-identity that hinges on her weekly excursions to the park. The alteration in her mood following the ridicule underscores the profound impact that external validation and recognition have on her self-esteem.

Allusion: The Significance of the "Cupboard"

Allusion serves as a powerful tool to reinforce the story's themes. Miss Brill's first allusion to a "cupboard" occurs when she describes the elderly individuals in the park. She pities them because they seemingly lack participation in the grand play she perceives herself to be part of. However, her perspective changes when she overhears the young couple's disparaging remarks and likens her own living space to a "room like a cupboard." This allusion is significant for two reasons.

Firstly, Mansfield uses the term "cupboard" to describe the abodes of the "funny old people" in the park, subtly revealing that Miss Brill shares similarities with these individuals. Although she fails to realize it, she is indeed one of these "funny old people." Mansfield unveils this revelation when describing Miss Brill's room to the reader. The term "cupboard" also underscores the influence of setting on readers' perceptions of the character's true nature. Miss Brill's room, resembling a "cupboard," amplifies her sense of despair and isolation.

Furthermore, the "cupboard" allusion provides insight into Miss Brill's shifting point of view. When she is content and elated, her room seems less oppressive. However, during moments of despondency, her perspective aligns with her earlier observations of the "funny old people" she encounters in the park.

Points of View: Limited Omniscience and Character Development

In "Miss Brill," the limited omniscient point of view allows readers to witness Miss Brill's lack of transformation by the story's conclusion. This narrative perspective offers insights into her thoughts and emotions, unfiltered by her idealized view of life. As Miss Brill enters the park, she begins to immerse herself in the details of her environment. She focuses on the positive aspects, such as the increased number of parkgoers, the livelier band, and the conductor's new coat. She selects the most favorable aspects of her surroundings, reflecting her rose-tinted perception of the world.

During her time in the park, Miss Brill adopts the role of a passive observer, convinced that she participates in the lives of others through eavesdropping. This perspective demonstrates her longing for engagement with the world around her. However, her observations change dramatically when she overhears the young couple ridiculing her. Her optimism gives way to a melancholic reality as she returns home to her "cupboard-like" room.

The limited omniscient point of view provides readers with an authentic portrayal of the conversation between the young couple. It reveals their unfiltered dialogue and their true perception of Miss Brill, unadulterated by her imaginative embellishments. When Miss Brill puts away her fur at home and believes she hears "something crying," she deflects her pain and sorrow onto the fur, a defense mechanism that allows her to perpetuate her fantasy world.


Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill" showcases the art of characterization through a masterful utilization of literary techniques. By employing symbolism, setting, allusion, and varying points of view, Mansfield invites readers to uncover the complexities of Miss Brill's character. The fur serves as a symbol for Miss Brill's vitality and need for belonging. The setting reflects her evolving sense of self in relation to her environment. Allusion to the "cupboard" underscores the influence of setting on readers' perceptions of the character, and the limited omniscient point of view unveils the character's unfiltered emotions.

Ultimately, "Miss Brill" serves as a testament to Mansfield's ability to craft a character whose inner world is rich and multifaceted. Readers are challenged to examine not only Miss Brill's actions but also the deeper layers of her character, making this short story a compelling exploration of human complexity and the power of storytelling.

Updated: Nov 10, 2023
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An In-Depth Analysis of Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill". (2016, Jun 18). Retrieved from

An In-Depth Analysis of Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill" essay
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