Miss Brill’s Essay
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The perfection of a short story lies in the symbiosis between content and form. Stylistic devices – especially imagery – contribute to the effect of the story, and according to Joseph Conrad “it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words” (Conrad 1955).
Short stories often rely heavyly on imagery and visual language, for the quite obvious reason that authors have very little space at their hands to bring a subject to life, to give the audience a vivd impression of it. Where a novelist can take any number of pages to establish an atmosphere, develop a character, unfold a plot etc. , the author of a short story must make do with an extremely limited amount of text and information. It is therefore necessary, in order to attain intensity, to employ those stylistic devices that achieve an immediate impact on the reader.
In Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer”, symbolism prevails. That is why I chose the topic of the importance of imagery for short stories as theme of this paper. First of all, I will have a close look at imagery in general; afterwards I will focus on “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad and “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield as examples for the interaction between language and contents in short stories. 2 Stylistic Devices: Imagery The aims and purposes of stylistic devices are manifold.
Stylistic devices are a way of expression, which give the author the possibility to use language beyond syntax, in order to make a tremendous impact on the reader. Thus, the artistic use of language is relevant to achieve the desired effect on the reader. One of those needful stylistic devices is imagery, which is “a rather vague critical term covering those uses of language in a literary work that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states, as distinct from the language of abstract argument or exposition.
The imagery of a literary work thus comprises the set of images that it uses; these need not be mental ‘pictures’, but may appeal to senses oter than sight. ” (Baldick 106) Each and every expression must be carefully weighed to serve its function within the narrative construct. According to Edgar Allen Poe “every word tells, and there is not a word that does not tell” (Poe 64), which means that there are no ill-considered words and therefore every single stylistic device serves to create the story.
Imagery is the collective term for such illustrative devices as metaphor, comparison, simile, symbol or allegory including myth. Their common function is to render abstract notions, relations or goings-on plastic enough for the audience to grasp – but not necessarily more comprehensible. 2. 1 Imagery in Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” Katherine Mansfield’s short story revolves around its one main character – Miss Brill – who dreams the life she would like to live. The author puts special emphasis on the surname of her heroine, although her first name is never mentioned.
Already in the title as well as in the first sentence of the story, where the Sunday is described as being “brilliantly fine” (Mansfield 330), the heroine’s name is introduced. Furthermore, there are at least two possible implications of the name “Miss Brill”. First of all it can be led back to the informal version of the adjective ‘brilliant’ or the French word ‘brillier’, which means ‘to shine’ (cf. Aczel 118). This is definitely not the word to describe her life, because “Miss Brill lives up her name only in her imagination, where she really does ‘shine’ in a glorious world of unlimited possibilities.
” (118). Thus, the name reflects her longing for a more glorious existence. However, her surname can also be related to a brill, which is a flat fish and hints on the fact that in reality Miss Brill is a simple and cold person who lives an isolated and restricted life. Miss Brill is not married and no family relations are mentioned and therefore can be called an old spinster. She lives in a small “room like a cupboard” (Mansfield 335) in France where she feels lonely and creates her own world. The image of the cupboard hints at the restricted, dark and isolated circumstances Miss Brill lives in.
The term “cupboard” is first used when Miss Brill observes the other people in the park: “They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or – even cupboards! ” (332). This observation speaks of her wishing for distance between her and these rather unglamorous individuals, and of extreme self-denial, considering that she eventually turns out to be exactly like them, her view on people in general is reducing and sexless, sometimes even caricaturing. She compares them to animals or playthings, degrading them and stripping them of their dignity.
Miss Brill remarks that the conductor of the band “scraped with his foot and flapped his arms like a rooster about to crow” (331), or she sees a “small high-stepping mother, like a young hen” (332). Another woman in the park she dubs “an ermine toque” (333); the neatly dressed little girls in the park are “little French dolls” to her. Miss Brill’s judgments are obviously quite unfair and superficial. While it seems, in the beginning, that she despises people for their inferiority, it becomes obvious, towards the end of the story, that she really despises herself. By looking down on those that match her profile, she ridicules her own life.
Another very important issue of symbolic value within the story is Miss Brill’s fur and the way she deals with it. She considers her fur as a kind of pet or friend. Miss Brill lives for the days that she spends in the park, this can be seen when she rubs “the life back into the dim little eyes” (331) of her fur. When Miss Brill goes to the park on Sundays she takes the fur out of its box, but instead of treating it like an accessory, she regards it as a companion. This is also reflected in the dialogues she has with the fur. “She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it” (331) and Miss Brill calls him “”Dear little thing!
” (331). The fur has “sad little eyes” (331) and its nose “wasn’t at all firm. It must have had a knock, somehow” (331). These descriptions of the fur imply that the fur is not new any more. If the fur is a symbol for Miss Brill herself, this means that she is old and used up, too. And “even the fact that it bites its own tail is a reflection of the repetiveness and futility of Miss Brill’s existence. ” (Aczel 119) When she names her fur “Little rogue” (Mansfield 331) she once more gives an insight in her own situation of living.