Themes in Miss Brill
Loneliness: Miss Brill’s loneliness is suggested by her actions and the way she reflects on her life. She thinks about her students and a man whom she reads to; these details reveal that she does not have a lot of interactions with friends or family. She is even separated from the reader; we never learn her first name. The connection we have of Miss Brill is constructed to be distant. The final moment when she returns the fur to its box and hears something crying symbolizes her own isolation and despair.
Illusion vs. Reality: Miss Brill constructs an elaborate fantasy about reality. The most central fantasy she focuses on includes everyone in the park as part of a play. This fantasy connects these individuals in a profound way. As part of the play, Miss Brill can imagine that she is less isolated. Ironically, she does not see herself as one of the “odd” old people that she judges in the park. However, her fantasy about connection to others and unrealistic self-perception fall apart when the young couple mocks her with cruel words, shattering Miss Brill’s illusion about her reality.
Youth and Old Age: While she observes the many people in the park, Miss Brill dismisses many of the elderly couples, remarking that they are “odd” or out of place. When the young couple arrive and speak cruelly about Miss Brill, they reveal the generational divides between young and old: the young view the elderly as pitiful.
Themes Examples in Miss Brill:
Miss Brill 5
"Other people sat on the benches and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same, Sunday after Sunday, and—Miss Brill had often noticed—there was something funny about nearly all of them..." See in text (Miss Brill)
As Miss Brill sits in her special spot, she notices that everyone sitting around her looks similar: “odd, silent, nearly all old.” In contrast to the brightly colored children, these people have been relegated to the sidelines. The juxtaposition between the active youth and the ignored old demonstrates the association between becoming marginalized with becoming old.
"—not sadness—no, not sadness—..." See in text (Miss Brill)
Similar to the passage at the beginning, this line reiterates how Miss Brill is unwilling to acknowledge negative feelings and strives to keep them out of her mind. She takes these feelings of melancholy or loneliness and tries to turn them into positive ones, striving to feel connected to others around her.
"Miss Brill had wanted to shake her..." See in text (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..." See in text (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.
"And when she breathed, something light and sad—no, not sad, exactly—something gentle seemed to move in her bosom..." See in text (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.