It is without a doubt that cell phones and social media are the number one cause of distraction these days. Even in the company of family, people will tend to be more preoccupied with their phones making conversations quite hard, and this is a behavior that is so annoying. Imagine in the absence of cell phones, but the individual is not talking as well. What if the value of interaction is being undermined and what are its effects? Answers to these questions are found in Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill, a short story written when there were no cell phones yet. Ms. Brill is the main protagonist of the story, a middle-aged spinster- word for an unmarried woman at the time of publication of the story- whose life revolves around teaching school children and reading the newspaper for a half-dead man who gives her no attention. Ms. Brill yearns for conversation and visits the park weekly hoping to get someone to talk to only to be ignored. On the day of the narration, Ms. Brill is at the park revising her view of the world and the secular reality. Though the story is short, it thoroughly details the theme of loneliness and alienation through the characterization of Ms. Brill and the mood of the narration.
One of the crucial aspects of this story is the uniform manner in which Katherine Mansfield presents the characters of the book taking very tiny details of their lives and making a universality of meaning out of it. Perhaps the most striking presentation is that of Ms. Brill where a simple item of the most ordinary efficacy is transformed with the use of descriptive language to suggest not only the person's position within the social hierarchy but also what is going on in her mind. To be specific, the characterization of Ms. Brill is a simple item that reveals to readers everything about herself and depicting more of the theme of loneliness. Through the characterization of Ms. Brill, the theme of loneliness continually reveals throughout this short tale. Ms. Brill relishes the thoughts of interacting with people, but for unclear reasons, she is not able to integrate into the larger society where she lives. She recompenses inability to form meaningful relations with other people by fantasizing. An early sign of her lonesomeness is evident in her relationship with inanimate objects like the fur to which is her substitute for human compassion. "...Ms. Brill placed her hand to feel her fur. Dear little thing! It is nice to feel you again" (Mansfield 1). Here Ms. Brill depicts a similar emotional attachment that children show towards their stuffed animals. However, she is no child but just a lonely isolated person whose feelings is transferred to a fur which partly has an animal head.
Ms. Brill loneliness is even evident in the mental manipulation of her surroundings. She is a routine visitor of the park every Sunday afternoons where she sits on the bench and listens to music played by the bands of which according to her intersperses her emotional state while watching people pass by. At one point, she is fantasizing with another man while watching a woman on the other end of the park having a conversation with her partner. The woman according to her imagination is her representative including donning fur, although on her head rather than where Ms. Brill wears hers. At the park, she eavesdrops other people's conversations a habit that she enjoys feeling that it substitutes for her inability to have her exchange with other people. However, things will not work well when a boy and his girlfriend direct some rude comments on Ms. Brill which are clearly hurting and cruel. Upset by the comments, she dashes home and even forgets to pass by the bakery for a slice of honey cake. She arrives home to her 'little dark room' and put the fur back to its box convinced that as she closes it, she could hear something crying, a further manifestation of her emotional transference illuminating the theme of loneliness.
Besides the characterization of Ms. Brill, another aspect of the story that demonstrates the theme of loneliness and isolation is ingrained in the author's writing strategy. Mansfield employs a technical approach and composes the narration in a way that that the reader can identify strongly with the tale within the text and this composition extends to setting the mood of the story. The narration somewhat exercises a form of seditious power of the protagonist in a certain smart way that the author delicately draws the readers into identifying with Ms. Brill so that even when other characters are mistreating her, the pain she feels is shared personally. For instance, there is a melancholy mood at the end of the story, and an instinctual or sensitive reader will honestly feel knocked for six by the meanness channeled towards Ms. Brill by the young couples who in due course are the reason for her epiphany episode which further illustrates the theme of loneliness and isolation.
However, this is not the mood of the entire narration. Generally, the mood of narration is relatively quirky, pretty and rather cheerful with the introduction of the blue clear golden sky in its inception. The words at the beginning of the narration are somewhat positive which feels both fun and sophisticated for a reader. Further, Ms. Brill's cheerful attitude specifically to affections she gives her little fur confirms the quirkiness of the mood as well. However, there are small suspicions that readers get along the story that not all seems cheerful and the mood start to change, and suddenly things are not as they were. Ms. Brill fantasy of being the leading performer on stage is imaginative though the extent to which she is committed to the fancy is strange. She seems more delusional than quirky. In addition, her strange remark that there is no doubt that somebody would have noticed she is not there revealing the emptiness in her life. Such shifting perspectives subtly sets different moods that make the theme of isolation rather conspicuous.
As a wrap-up, Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill as a narration of the life of a middle-aged spinster reveals the theme of loneliness and isolation. The main character, Ms. Brill is a quaint lady whose personality tells more about her life in isolation and her desires to have someone close to hers. Her loneliness is manifested through the setting of the mood by the author that generally helps to bring out the theme of loneliness. Ms. Brill psychological and social disintegration simultaneously serve as the objects of her isolation and loneliness and where a similar theme develops.
Mansfield, Katherine. Miss Brill. Penguin UK, 2015.
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