Tuesday, February 17, 2009

THE CONFLICT IN “MISS BRILL”

In the story, “Miss Brill,” by Katherine Mansfield, the narrator is a peculiar and a strange character. She lives a simple life, yet she believes she is in a complex world and that she plays a role in that world. Nevertheless, this illusion exists only in the mind of the narrator. Therefore, it is the narrator’s detachment with reality that creates the conflict in this story.
Initially, the narrator introduces the reader to the elegant environment around her. The park is described as being just right, the perfect place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon. She comments on her fur coat, which she is glad she brought. The story reads: “Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur…She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into its dim little eyes.” The comment about the eyes is very important, especially because she views the fur as being a living being. She looks at the fur’s eyes and talks to it. The fur has come to represent the main or, perhaps, the only contact Miss Brill has with another living being. The fur acts as a companion on Miss Brill’s journey to the park every Sunday. Moreover, the fur helps to maintain Miss Brill’s detachment with reality because of the role it plays both in the life of Miss Brill.
Additionally, Miss Brill makes a statement regarding the park and what happens in it that further helps to understand her lack of touch with reality. Miss Brill comes to assert that all that is happening in the park is like a play. The story says: “It was like a play. It was exactly like a play. They [everyone in the park, including Miss Brill] were all on the stage. They weren’t only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting.” From this quote, it is clear that Miss Brill’s life has become a reoccurring sequence of events, much like a play. Although several events occur during a play, the play is still confined to its plot. Eventually the play ends, and the only way to experience it again is by repeating it. Moreover, Miss Brill is an actress in her play, the main character of her life, but not of the world. She does not give herself a dominant role; instead, she only mentions that her role is only on Sundays. However, she hopes that the fact that she is part of the play, and therefore an actress, will help her upgrade her status among others. The narrator mentions how an old invalid gentleman to whom she reads the newspaper four afternoons a week would recognize her as an actress of the play and would offer her his praise. Indeed, Miss Brill herself has accurately identified what her life resembles: a repeating play; the irony is that she connects such play to the entire world.
Notwithstanding, Miss Brill’s play contains a tragic ending. As she is happily sitting on the bench and watching the people in the park, she overhears a young man saying: “Why does she [Miss Brill] come here at all. Who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?” The words of the young man shatter Miss Brill’s character. After that incident, Miss Brill does the unthinkable. She breaks the routine that she has been doing for long time. This single action puts into perspective the impact that comment had on her. The play which Miss Brill has just envisioned has completely changed. In a way, Miss Brill has left one play for another, more depressing play. Moreover, the comment made by the man directly solves the conflict of the story. For the first time, Miss Brill realizes that she is alone and that no one wants to be with her.
In conclusion, the conflict of this story is Miss Brill’s lack of touch with reality. Miss Brill, as she herself says, is part of a play. What she does not realize is that the play she refers to is her life and that she is the only person in that play. When the man makes the comment, Miss Brill is brought back to reality. She finally realizes that her play is a one-person performance. In the end, Miss Brill resolves her conflict, but, at the same time, she is forced to face the true nature of her reality: loneliness.

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