Miss Brill’s strange behavior of talking to her fur coat can be seen as her nostalgia for a lost youth, when her coat was new and she was at the hopeful age of marriageability (in Mansfield’s time women were married at quite a young age, and not getting married was so looked down upon that spinsters were pitied and shut out of a great deal of social life). As Miss Brill sits in the stands she notices that everyone sitting around her looks just about the same: “odd, silent, nearly all old.” These are people who have been relegated to the sidelines, marginalized and ignored by society, and the story connects that marginalization with being old.
Though Miss Brill’s description of these people could just as well be applied to herself, through much of the story she does not recognize this. The story can be seen as Miss Brill’s awakening toward her understanding of her irrelevance and marginalization in society – her oldness. The silent old woman and old man next to her leave and, in their stead, come a young girl and boy who dismiss Miss Brill, call her a “fried whiting” – a cooked fish. This brushoff represents the way generations succeed each other, and how the young often disdain the old. At the end of the story, when she places her fur coat back in the box, the action suggests a kind of retirement for the coat, which Miss Brill finally sees as old and worn—just like her.
Youth and Age ThemeTracker
Youth and Age 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.
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?
Oh, how fascinating it was...It was exactly like a play.
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.”
She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.