Character Analysis in Miss Brill

Miss Brill: A middle-aged, unmarried English tutor in France, Miss Brill is optimistic, observant, and sensitive. Her reflections about her day to day life reveal that she is extremely lonely. She substitutes reality with fantasies about the lives of the people she comes in contact with. These fantasies reveal her personal desires and her judgemental approach to others.

Her Fur: Miss Brill characterizes her fur as her “little rogue.” In personifying the article of clothing, Miss Brill creates a companion with whom she can travel to the park. The imaginary nature of this character works to demonstrate Miss Brill’s interior character. It reveals her imagination and profound loneliness.

Character Analysis Examples in Miss Brill:

Miss Brill 10

"she'd bought when her hair was yellow..."   (Miss Brill)

Notice the way Miss Brill describes the ermine toque and the woman. She does not say that the woman bought the toque when she was younger; she says when the woman's hair was yellow. This focus on color, clothing, and style, but not on the woman's age, possibly supports the notion that Miss Brill is blind to her own age and appearance. Indeed, the woman's ermine toque is a similar kind of garment to Miss Brill's fur.

"Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again..."   (Miss Brill)

Miss Brill’s talking to her fur demonstrates her fondness for the garment, which in turn reveals her nostalgia for her youth. When the fur was new, Miss Brill was likely at a marriageable age. In the early 20th century, women got married at quite a young age, and if a woman did not getting married, she was deemed a “spinster.” Such women were often pitied, looked down upon, and shut out of a great deal of social life.

"Miss Brill had wanted to shake her..."   (Miss Brill)

Miss Brill not only wants everyone to be connected to each other, but she also wants these connections to be positive. Miss Brill’s wanting to shake the woman demonstrates the visceral effect that her observations of others has on her, and it suggests that she feels very strongly connected to the people she watches. This means that because she feels connected, the connection is real for her.

"She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying..."   (Miss Brill)

The pain that Miss Brill feels affirms both the significance of feeling connected to others and how trying to create such connections makes one vulnerable. Even though Miss Brill feels such pain at the end, it is important to note that her sense of a universal connection to others is far more noble and exciting—especially compared to the callousness of the boy and girl. This story’s power comes not only from Miss Brill’s realization of how others perceive her, but it also comes from how her beautiful vision of being connected to everyone is ruined.

"she thought she heard something crying..."   (Miss Brill)

Now seeing herself as similar to the old people who live in “cupboards,” Miss Brill finds her fur old and shameful. When she places it back in the cupboard, she is rejecting herself in the same way the boy and girl did. The crying that she hears symbolizes the sadness she feels, as putting away the fur is akin to at locking herself in the cupboard.

"And when she breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad, exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom..."   (Miss Brill)

Miss Brill has brought her fur coat out of storage for the season and “[rubbed] the life into it.” This detail refers to Miss Brill herself: She is alone, lonely, and the trips to the park help give her life and feel connected to others. This speaks to the themes of delusion and alienation present throughout the short story. She does not appear to realize how lonely she is; although this line reveals that she is aware of a kind of sadness, but she immediately disregards that feeling and replaces it with something more positive.

"special..."   (Miss Brill)

Notice here that Miss Brill doesn’t just sit in any available location. She sits in a particular, “special” seat. This word accomplishes a couple of things. First, it shows how going to the park is a regular habit of hers. Second, by calling the seat special Miss Brill is also attributing this quality to herself. She is a very curious woman who listens in on the lives of others and judges them for what she hears.

"It was like a play...."   (Miss Brill)

Miss Brill wants to be included in the community, so she imagines the world as a stage. This allows her to feel connected to those around her. Because the success of a play requires that all individual parts contribute to the whole, this fantasy offers Miss Brill the illusion of having a significant, unique, and indispensable role in society—one that she lacks in the real world.

"almond it was like carrying home a tiny present—a surprise—..."   (Miss Brill)

Miss Brill delights in the little things, such as finding an almond in her cake. Since the almond is hidden until she gets to the middle, it is usually a nice surprise for her. The almond in a way represents how Miss Brill imagines her role in society. While she may be unnoticed at times, she still sees herself as an important member. Imagining the almond as a “tiny present” makes Miss Brill feel a connection to those around her—as if someone has given her a gift. Considering this connection, her not buying a cake on the way home symbolizes the loss of these illusions of connections and status between her and her community.

"her room like a cupboard..."   (Miss Brill)

Recall how earlier Miss Brill described the “odd, silent, and nearly all old” people as having come from “dark little rooms or even—even cupboards.” By comparing her own room to a cupboard, Miss Brill now not only sees a connection between herself and the other people, but she also sees more clearly into her own life. She is not as young as she once was.