Miss Brill

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Fried Whiting  Symbol Icon
The “fried whiting” – or a cooked fish – does not actually appear in the story as a physical entity, but the boy uses the image as a way to swiftly describe and dismiss Miss Brill. Thus, the fried whiting is invisible just as Miss Brill is in her society. The deadness of the fish (for it is cooked), in turn, expresses the irrelevance and nonexistence of Miss Brill for those around her – no one will miss her if she is not there. Additionally, a whiting fish is rather unattractive and, because it is common, unremarkable; this suggests how Miss Brill blends into her society: she is at once unseen and also undesirable.

Fried Whiting Quotes in Miss Brill

The Miss Brill quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fried Whiting . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loneliness and Alienation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Miss Brill published in 1991.
Miss Brill Quotes

“Why does she come here at all—who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”
“It’s her fu-ur which is so funny,” giggled the girl. “It’s exactly like a fried whiting.”

Related Characters: Boy and Girl (speaker), Miss Brill
Related Symbols: Fur Coat and Garments, Fried Whiting
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

Contented by the lull of the band, her imagined connection and mutual understanding with the other "actors", a peaceful Miss Brill admires the young couple, whom she calls the "hero and heroine" of her fantasized play, as they sit down near her to listen to the music. 

When the young woman playfully rebuffs the boy's advances, the boy concludes that it's the presence of Miss Brill, whom he calls "that stupid old thing," that makes his partner uncomfortable, and the two joke crudely about her age. The young woman likens Miss Brill's fur, which had hence served as a source of happiness and pride, to "a fried whiting," pointing out the reality of age and ugliness Miss Brill had tried to counter with fantasy. 

In this pivotal moment, Miss Brill's carefully constructed fantasy of connectedness and self-importance cracks, and we witness the reality of how harshly people perceive her. Not unlike her earlier description of the elderly people in the garden, others reduce her to a funny, old, and unwanted "thing." The disconnect between how Miss Brill has aggressively portrayed herself versus how others view her suggests that she is aware of her obsolete position in society-- in this city, no one has much value or respect for an old spinster-- and that all her fantasizing has, in fact, been her only way of achieving happiness in a society that painfully excludes her. 

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Fried Whiting Symbol Timeline in Miss Brill

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fried Whiting appears in Miss Brill. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Miss Brill
Loneliness and Alienation Theme Icon
Delusion and Reality Theme Icon
Connectedness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...the girl makes fun of Miss Brill’s fur coat and compares it to a “ fried whiting .” (full context)