Miss Brill, the protagonist of the story, is a spinster – a word used, at the time of the publication of the story, to refer to an unmarried woman – who spends her days teaching schoolchildren and reading the newspaper to a half-dead man who cares little for her presence. Miss Brill yearns for conversation, yet both the students and the old man don’t listen to her.
Her weekly visits to the park are a result of her loneliness and alienation and her desire to exist and interact with a wider world. At the park, she watches and listens to the people and goings on around her and in that way feels like a part of the community. And though she is essentially alone in the stands—an old man and old woman sit next to her, but don’t speak—she finds a way to include herself in what she watches. She sees all of the people, in their separate interactions, as being part of an elaborate stage production. And she thinks of the people in the stands, including herself, not as audience members but rather as performers too. She thinks of herself as being such a part of the production that if she were missing someone would be bound to notice. Indeed, she thinks that she might tell the old man who cares little for her presence that “I have been an actress for a long time.”
Yet the only conversation Miss Brill holds in the entire story is with her fur coat. She is not a part of the community, and the reader understands this with the same pang of pain that Miss Brill feels when she overhears the boy and the girl mock her fur coat as old and shabby and speak about her as if she has no right to sit next to them. In this way, the community she thinks she belongs to rejects her, and Miss Brill retreats back to her apartment and lonely life. Her curiosity and desire to connect makes her vulnerable and ends up leading her to realize her alienation from the people she saw as a source of life’s excitement.
Loneliness and Alienation ThemeTracker
Loneliness and Alienation Quotes in Miss Brill
And when she breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad, exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.
She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives just for a minute while they talked round her.
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!
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?
They were all on the stage. They weren’t only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday.
“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.”
If there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present—a surprise—something that might very well not have been there.
She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.