Miss Brill The point of view that Katherine Mansfield has chosen to use in “Miss Brill” serves two purposes. First, it illustrates how Miss Brill herself views the world and, second, it helps the reader take the same journey of burgeoning awareness as Miss Brill. The story is written in a third person omniscient (although limited) point of view. Miss Brill also interprets the world around her in a similar fashion. She is her own narrator, watching people around her and filling in their thoughts to create stories to amuse herself.
Compared to most people, Miss Brill’s thinking is atypical. Generally, in viewing the world around him, a person will acknowledge his own presence and feelings. For example, if something is funny, a person will fleetingly think “I find that amusing.” While that entire sentence may not consciously cross his mind, the fact that it is humorous is personally related. Miss Brill has no such pattern of thought. She has somehow managed to not include herself in her reactions; she is merely observing actions and words.
In this manner, she most resembles the narrator of the story by simply watching and relaying the events around her. This internalized third person point of view is taken even further when Miss Brill decides that the park and everyone in it “[is] like a play. It [is] exactly like a play” (260). This is the epitome of her detached point of view. Not only is she merely watching the people around her, she is so far removed from them that she feels like a separate audience. This theory that she hits upon then changes, and she decides that she does, in fact, have a part in the play as an actress. Even at this point of inclusion, she does not see herself as a leading lady, but as a mere cast member is the drama that unfolds in the park every Sunday.
This seems even more detached. It implies that she is putting on a show rather than behaving and reacting honestly toward her own life. As Miss Brill travels from her isolated existence into self-awareness, the reader is also taken on the same trip. The reader’s perceptions of Miss Brill during the story mirror and shift along with Miss Brill’s perceptions about herself. The reader is given no real clues about Miss Brill other than her profession, a teacher, and that she goes to the park every Sunday. Her age is unidentified and hard to guess; the reader is given no connection between Miss Brill and others her age.
In fact, Miss Brill comes across as much younger than she is, mainly due to her disdain toward older people. She finds them “odd [and] silent . . . from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards!” (259).
Just as she only focuses on other people, the reader is only told about the people surrounding her at the park. When she decides that she is an actress, the reader gains a similar insight about Miss Brill; she sees her world as an intricate show that can be thrown out of balance by one absence. At the climax of the story, when the two young lovers comment on her appearance, the reader is suddenly aware of how old Miss Brill really is and how unaware she was about that fact. Miss Brill and the reader experience the shattering of her self image at the same time. For the first time during the story, both the reader and she see how other people see her.
At the end of the story, when she puts the fur in its box and “[thinks] she hear[s] someone crying” (261), the reader is finally shown an emotion belonging to Miss Brill. Mansfield’s use of third person point of view in this story allowed her to keep Miss Brill’s fears and realities hidden from the reader. If the reader had been aware of everything from the beginning, there would have been no point at all to the story. Carefully revealing pieces of Miss Brill’s character through this point of view illustrated her own passage into a new reality. Keeping the point of view limited to Miss Brill and excluding the thoughts of the other characters kept the reader centered on Miss Brill so that the same realizations could come about simultaneously.
The reader, through masterful use of point of view, was able to share a very meaningful experience with the character and go through the same steps that she did to reach the end. Bibliography Mansfield, Katherine. “Miss Brill.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer.
5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 1999. 258-61. English Essays.