Miss Brill


Katherine Mansfield

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Miss Brill: Style 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

"Miss Brill" is written in a light and lyrical style that emphasizes the titular character's subjectivity and illuminates the differences between her self-conception and the way others perceive her. Throughout the story, Miss Brill tries to convince herself that she is a contented and connected member of a strong community, often using enthusiastic language and imagery to do so. Sitting in the park, Miss Brill reflects: 

Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play. Who could believe the sky at the back wasn’t painted?

However, there's a strong contrast between this determinedly positive language and the actual events the story depicts. In this case, at the moment when Miss Brill makes this observation, she's sitting alone on a bench, watching as other park-goers interact with family and friends. This stylistic choice allows the reader to experience the tragedy of Miss Brill's loneliness, even as she tries to hide it from herself.

It also reflects one of the modernist movement's central concerns: the naturalistic depiction of human consciousness. Mansfield gives the reader direct access to Miss Brill's thoughts through flowing sentences that stop and start like organic thoughts, as when she's listening to the orchestra: 

Now there came a little ‘flutey’ bit – very pretty! – a little chain of bright drops. She was sure it would be repeated. It was; she lifted her head and smiled.

The interjection of "very pretty" in Miss Brill's description of the orchestra situates the reader directly in her mind. But the contrast between language and event allows the reader to arrive at psychological insights that Miss Brill doesn't herself possess. By showing Miss Brill's emotional state without explicitly describing it, Mansfield intimately portrays the mind of a woman who cannot bear to articulate her own loneliness. At the end of the story, when the two young lovers insult Miss Brill and she retreats home in defeat, the story's sentences become short and austere to underscore the unwelcome self-knowledge she has finally achieved. 

Another key aspect of modernism is a focus on how individuals relate to their societies. "Miss Brill" is narrowly focused on its title character's experience. There are no other major characters in the story, and Mansfield provides no access to minds other than Miss Brill's: even when Miss Brill imagines what other park-goers might be thinking, those monologues say more about her own inner life than those of her neighbors. The story's focus and its limited perspective reflect Miss Brill's deep alienation from her society and lack of connection with anyone around her.