Miss Brill

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Fur Coat and Garments Symbol Analysis

Fur Coat and Garments Symbol Icon
At the start of the story, Miss Brill speaks fondly to her coat as if it is alive. This strange behavior can be seen as reflecting her nostalgia for a lost youth, when her coat was new and she was at the hopeful age of marriageability At the end of the story, she puts it back into its box, “without looking”, and “she thought she heard something crying”. This arc from fond engagement with her fur coat to her final rejection of it mirrors how she feels about her own place in society over the course of the story: at first she thinks she is part of the community, a participant in the scene she sees around her, but at the end of the story, after she is rejected by the boy, she concludes that she is not important to anyone else at all. The fur coat in which she delights, she sees in that moment, is actually rather shabby and old, and Miss Brill puts away her coat with the same callousness exhibited by the boy, while its “crying” reflects her own despair. Garments in general in the story – such as the ermine toque, the conductor’s coat, or the boy and girl’s beautiful clothes – serve as a marker of class and importance in the story: if you are not well-dressed, you are not well-regarded either.

Fur Coat and Garments Quotes in Miss Brill

The Miss Brill quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fur Coat and Garments. 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

And when she breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad, exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.

Related Characters: Miss Brill
Related Symbols: Fur Coat and Garments
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

As Miss Brill sets out for her weekly outing to Jardins Publique, she considers the fur she has chosen to wear, and here reflects the emotions involved in taking it out of its box earlier in the afternoon.

Miss Brill's "light and sad" feeling here indicates the harsh reality that, like Miss Brill herself, the fur has aged past its prime, and what once might have been beautiful has withered away. Also like Miss Brill, who lives unmarried and alone, the fur has been long stored away and isolated. The harsh reality is that both Miss Brill and the fur have grown old and lonely. 

Despite her feelings of sadness and nostalgia over this reality, Miss Brill is quick and purposeful in pretending that her feelings of sadness are in fact, something else, something "gentle." By denying herself the truth, she resists feeling the brunt of the reality that surrounds her and is able to go the gardens and feel content in her fur. Thus, we learn early on that it takes some level of pretending, some level of fantasy, for Miss Brill to process the world around her without despairing. 

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The ermine toque was alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band seemed to know what she was feeling and played more softly…What would she do? What was going to happen now?

Related Characters: Ermine toque and Gentleman in grey
Related Symbols: Fur Coat and Garments
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:

Like eavesdropping, Miss Brill's intense people-watching in the park is one of the ways she attempts to connect with others and counter her loneliness. Here, she watches a woman, reduced by Miss Brill to the ermine toque (small hat) she wears, solicit a gentleman who immediately rejects her. 

Following the rejection, Miss Brill romanticizes the scene, dramatically wondering what the girl will do next or what will happen next, as if what she has witnessed is part of an entertaining play. Her observation that the band is playing to musical score to reflect the woman's rejection further hints at Miss Brill's fantasized theatricality. 

In the bustle of the garden and its many people, it is important to note that Miss Brill noticed this moment in particular. It is likely she identifies with the ermine toque, who not only also wears fur, but experiences social rejection--the very thing Miss Brill avoids through her self-delusions and is forced to confront at the story's end, when she too is rejected. 

“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. 

She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.

Related Characters: Miss Brill
Related Symbols: Fur Coat and Garments
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

In contrast to the beginning of the story, where Miss Brill slowly and tenderly removes the fur from its box and fantasizes it to have a life and beauty of it's own, here, she stuffs it away in haste without so much as looking at the garment. 

The change in Miss Brill's perception of the fur demonstrates her transition from comforting delusions to harsher reality. Like the funny, "fried-whiting" fur in its box, Miss Brill is old and alone in a city that seems to celebrate only its youth. 

Whereas in the beginning, Miss Brill chalked down the "light and sad" feeling in her chest to "gentleness," in these final lines, she is truly despairing, unable to turn the harder truths of age into more easily digestible euphemisms. 

Despite the fullness of Miss Brill's transition from delusions into reality, the close-third narration suggests that she still is attempting to soften the blow of her sadness via the ambiguity of who is crying. The line in which Miss Brill "thought she heard something crying" suggests she wants to attribute the crying to the fur rather than herself (if she is physically crying, that is). The purpose of this delusion--an inanimate fur cannot cry--is not to brighten the world around her, as were her past delusions, but to deflect her shame and embarrassment over the truths she now has no choice but to confront. 

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Fur Coat and Garments Symbol Timeline in Miss Brill

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fur Coat and Garments 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
...Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens) in a French town on a marvelously fine day, wears a fur coat . It is autumn. She touches her coat repeatedly, her “dear little thing”, which she... (full context)
Loneliness and Alienation Theme Icon
Delusion and Reality Theme Icon
Connectedness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...have come. “Who wants her?” he asks. Then the girl makes fun of Miss Brill’s fur coat and compares it to a “fried whiting.” (full context)
Loneliness and Alienation Theme Icon
Delusion and Reality Theme Icon
Connectedness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
...straight to “her room like a cupboard” and sits on her bed. She puts the fur coat back into its box, which was left on the bed, and “without looking” puts it... (full context)