The final image of Miss Brill sadly and quietly putting her fur back into the box from whence it came, and imagining she hears it crying, is an image that sheds a lot of light on her inner state. She is going back to solitary confinement; she is crying inside. She is "not at all firm" like the fur's nose; she is not who she presents herself to be.
A Painter's Eye
Miss Brill should have become a painter. Her observant eye for detail conveys through imagery the sort of storyline that all great painters of crowd scenes usually tell. Consider everything that images of boys dressed in clothing adorned with “big white silk bows” and girls wearing red velvet says about the economic and social conditions of those who bring their children to the park on Sunday. And the description of the older park visitors as staring as though having emerged from the cocoon of a cupboard doesn’t just say they live alone. It says they are lonely in part because they are afraid to leave their homes until the safety in numbers that come with Sunday.
The Fashion Connection
A motif is established which discloses that Miss Brill associates the quality of what a person wears with the quality of their character. Mansfield never openly states that this is so, but rather allows the impression to build through repetition. The image of Miss Brill personifying her fur by pretending it is talking illustrates that she takes fashion seriously. Her awareness that the band conductor is wearing a new coat discloses that the importance of clothing is not limited to her own. As each park visitor worthy of notice passes through the narrative, there are two things the reader will always know about them: their sex and what they were wearing. Finally, there is the woman in the fur toque which the reader learns has become shabby with age not as a result of a description of the hat, but a description of the woman, thus revealing to just what extent Miss Brill makes her connection between observation and perception.
Fantasy and Reality, Blurred
This perceptual disconnect occasionally blurs the line between the reality being witnessed and the fantasy life in which Miss Brill spends a great deal of time, almost to the point of total erasure. The speed with which Miss Brill is now capable of erasing that line is revealed almost casually through what seems like the simplest of imagery when describing the young couple who are about to turn her world upside down: “They were beautifully dressed [factual observation/opinion]; they were in love [speculation based on a minimal evidence]. The hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from his father's yacht [pure fiction invented to fulfill fantasy].” That leap from assertion of taste based on observation to spinning an invented narrative would be utterly harmless if Miss Brill did not become so emotionally invested in the fiction. As a result, when her romantic heroes reveal their true characters to be naked and ugly, it does turn her world upside down; that reality will also be conveyed to the reader obliquely through imagery that circles back to the beginning of the story, but is now presented in a completely oppositional way.
Miss Brill Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Miss Brill is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.