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Symbols in Miss Brill
Her Fur: Miss Brill’s fur symbolizes her interior landscape. She begins the story by speaking to the fur as if it were a living thing. This reveals her loneliness and isolation, and it also demonstrates her capacity for imagination. After she is rejected in the park, Miss Brill returns the fur to its small, dark box. She can’t look at the fur as she puts it away because she can only see its faded, ragged nature. The fur symbolizes Miss Brill herself by the end of the story: she too returns to her small, dark apartment and recognizes that she is shabby and old. The “crying” she imagines coming from the box could be interpreted as Miss Brill herself crying.
Orchestra: The orchestra symbolizes Miss Brill’s emotions. As the orchestra plays, Miss Brill feels more and more connected to the people around her.
Fried Whiting: While not physically in the story, the young girl uses the image of a dead, fried fish to refer to Miss Brill’s fur and, by extension, Miss Brill herself: The fish has no active purpose; Miss Brill lacks relevance in her society.
Symbols Examples in Miss Brill:
"Wasn't the conductor wearing a new coat, too?..." See in text (Miss Brill)
Garments and clothing in general have additional meanings in the story. They serve as markers of class and importance for people, and we can find evidence for this based on the effort Miss Brill put into getting her fur ready to wear and her attention to others' clothes. For Miss Brill, not being well-dressed means not being well-regarded.
"she thought she heard something crying..." See in text (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.
"almond it was like carrying home a tiny present—a surprise—..." See in text (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.
"the ermine toque..." See in text (Miss Brill)
An ermine toque is a type of fur hat, and in this instance it is also being used to identify the woman that Miss Brill encounters. Using this article of clothing to identify a character illustrates Miss Brill’s impulse to consider clothing as an adequate indicator of societal status. This tendency is exemplified in her comparison of the hat to the woman’s hair—both of which have faded or gone “shabby.”
"her room like a cupboard..." See in text (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.
"a fried whiting..." See in text (Miss Brill)
A whiting fish is a common and unremarkable fish that is commonly served fried. The girl uses this comparison to quickly describe and then dismiss Miss Brill. The girl's statement suggests that Miss Brill is also commonplace, unremarkable, and, therefore, undesirable. She blends into society, and no one would miss her if she weren’t there.