Miss Brill

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Themes and Colors
Loneliness and Alienation Theme Icon
Delusion and Reality Theme Icon
Connectedness Theme Icon
Youth and Age Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Miss Brill, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Connectedness Theme Icon

Miss Brill, during the time she spends in the park, constantly looks for connections between people. She notices how two young girls and two soldiers meet each other and laugh. She sees a boy picking up a bunch of flowers a woman has dropped. She notices a woman in an ermine torque and a gentleman speaking to each other and imagines what they are saying to one another. These are not Miss Brill’s imaginings; they are real interactions between separate and different individuals who nonetheless mean something to one another. The theory that Miss Brill develops, that everyone belongs to part of a tremendous stage production, remains a valid way to understand and visualize how everyone together makes up a community or a society.

Miss Brill has a strong desire for people not only to be connected to one another, but also for these connections to be positive. The week before an Englishman and his wife were arguing about something so silly that Miss Brill wanted to shake the woman. What happens within the connections Miss Brill observes has a visceral effect on her. Put another way, even though Miss Brill deludes herself about her own importance in the scene around her, Miss Brill herself feels connected to the people she watches. That feeling of connectedness also isn’t a delusion: she feels connected, which makes it real. To some extent, that the other characters don’t feel as connected to her doesn’t matter, doesn’t lessen the reality of the connection she feels. Of course, once the cruelty and rudeness of the boy and girl makes Miss Brill view herself through the eyes of others and get the sense that those others don’t feel connected to her, she retreats in pain from what to her now seem like unrequited connections. The pain Miss Brill feels, then, asserts both the importance of feeling connection to human beings and how trying to forge such connections makes one vulnerable. At the same time, it is worth noting how much more noble and exciting Miss Brill’s sense of a universe of connections is to the callous cruelty of the boy and the girl. The story’s power comes not just from the tragedy of Miss Brill’s pain after realizing how others see her and then shutting herself away, but also from the ruin of the beauty of her vision of the connectedness of all people.

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Connectedness ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Connectedness appears in each chapter of Miss Brill. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Connectedness Quotes in Miss Brill

Below you will find the important quotes in Miss Brill related to the theme of Connectedness.
Miss Brill Quotes

Often people sat on the benches and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same, Sunday after Sunday, and—Miss Brill had often noticed—there was something funny about nearly all of them. 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—even cupboards!

Related Characters: Fine old man and big old woman
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Brill's perception of the city's elders is ironic in its condescension: every measured observation she makes about this "odd, silent...old" group of people who frequent the gardens every Sunday is equally applicable to her. Like the other old people, she lives alone in a "dark little room", and her criticism of them as having "something funny" about them is exactly how the young couple demeans her at the story's end. 

No matter the apparent irony, there is a sense that Miss Brill's criticism is deliberately harsh, for although she is really among people she criticizes, the act of criticizing itself is a means of distance and dissociation from this group. By adopting the attitude of younger people, Miss Brill is deluding herself into thinking herself among them, effectively denying the own oddness, silence, and elderliness that they perceive in her. 


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“Yes, I have been an actress for a long time.”

Related Characters: Miss Brill (speaker), Old Man
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

Apart from her Sunday outings to the gardens, Miss Brill's only venues of interaction with other people are through her job as a teacher and in her volunteering to read the newspaper four times a week to an elderly invalid gentleman who, for the most part, disregards her presence. 

Delighted in her transformation of the Jardins Publique into a play and herself into an actress, Miss Brill fantasizes about the pleasure she will take in revealing to her pupils and the gentleman that, all this time they have failed to notice her, she has been an actress. To the invalid gentleman, who, due to his sickness, particularly treats Miss Brill as if she is invisible, she here imagines him being deeply impressed, if not amazed, by her status as an actress. 

At their core, these fantasies have little to do with any desire to be an actress, but rather to be appreciated, to be noticed as special by others, two things Miss Brill does not experience in her everyday life. 

“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.