The central symbol of the story is one that Miss Brill invests great significance in by personifying it to realm beyond mere object. Her sense that the fur is crying is a key bit of evidence leading to the conclusion that the reason the fur is intended to symbolize none other than Miss Brill herself. It is shabby like she is. It is kept in a box by itself like she is. It is insignificant like she is.
Motif: The Conductor's New Coat and the Young Couple
As shall soon be obvious, the motif of clothing is vital to the story and goes beyond the fur. The passing reference to the conductor wearing a new coat is actually more than trivial. The fact that Miss Brill has a keen eye for such a detail is clue to just how much importance she invests in attire and appearance. For Miss Brill, appearance is inextricably tied to how one is judged; clothes make the person. Clothing also plays a part in the young couple as symbolically significant. Miss Brill is given to casting the other people in the park into roles in little imaginary plays taking place inside her mind. Because they are nicely dressed, they naturally get cast as romantic heroes in Miss Brill’s imagination, but in reality they are anything but heroic. In fact, they exhibit a cruelty that has the effect of transforming Miss Brill’s entire world. By doing so, they become the symbol of the disconnect between Miss Brill’s perception of the world and how the world actually is.
Symbol: The Fried Whiting
The fried whiting is a symbol not as immediately recognizable to most readers but it too is charged with the significance of appearance. The cruelty of her supposed romantic heroes is underscored by the girl comparing her beloved fur to a common white fish that is almost always served fried and is remarkable for its lack of any remarkable characteristics. The implication is that the fur is not enough to make Miss Brill interesting by making her look especially foolish or pathetic—she might as well not even be there.
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.