Of Golden Leaves and Furry Things

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Obviously, I should be a poet.

It was clear while reading Katherine Mansfield's short story, "Miss Brill," that the author put a lot of thought into every single word she used.  Her word choice was creative mostly in its subtlety, because I didn't really notice her detail in foreshadowing the first time I read it.  One such instance of this creativity exists in Mansfield's use of the season to symbolize Miss Brill's age and loneliness.  I suppose it's not the most original idea, to use the season as a symbol for a person's age, but the literary device was unique in this case because it was not the sole focus of the story.  Mostly, she focuses on the importance of the fur.

"Although it was so brilliantly fine - the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white whine splashed over the Jardins Publiques - Miss Brill was glad that she decided on her fur.  The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting - from nowhere, from the sky.  Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur.  Dear little thing!  It was nice to feel it again" (348-349, emphasis mine).
            Kathering Mansfield, "Miss Brill"

At the beginning of the story, the setting is rather pleasant and symbolizes the bright, vibrant days of a person's life.  "Spots of light" filter through the "blue sky."  However, Mansfield begins to show the change in Miss Brill's perspective of herself, but especially the perspective of others regarding the character.  Miss Brill seems aware that her life is no longer as exciting as it was when she used to wear her fur, as is evident by the fact that "the air was motionless" - it's almost like she's trying to pause life and stay in her past.  However, she can't fight life, so an occasional leaf comes "drifting - from nowhere, from the sky," like a cosmic reminder that her life is different now.

The fur represents her connection to her past.  Miss Brill needs it to try to prevent getting older and out of fashion, alienated from the younger crowd in her surroundings.  She touches it and holds it, letting the memories come back to her.  No matter how much she wishes she can, she can't fight the aging process.

"Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down drooping" (349).

Here we see another piece of evidence signifying Miss Brill's age.  She prefers to watch the younger people passing by, but she's surrounded by the elderly that she finds "odd, silent."  The slender trees represent the youth around her, whereas the yellow leaves "drooping" from them represent Miss Brill clinging to something she can no longer have.  When she finally puts the fur away at the end of the story, the reader knows that Miss Brill has accepted the differences in her life.  She's not happy about them, but she accepts them nonetheless.

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2 Comments

Jessica Orlowski said:

When reading this story, I imagined that the fur represented two things. First, it could represent what you said- her connection to the past. However, couldn't it also contribute to the broader theme of the "seasons" changing? Obviously, Miss Brill is in her later years- the "fall" of her life. The fact that the leaf fell unexpectedly from the trees reminds her of her frailty and fading life. So, she has to touch her fur to remind her that there is some coverage and warmth that can still be gotten from life, despite the bitterness of it. Also, I find it kind of ironic that the thing she's using for comfort is... dead.

Here's something I found that might interest you:
http://www.answers.com/topic/miss-brill-story-4

It describes the style, setting, narration, and symbolism of the story, particularly the symbolism of the fur.

Thanks for the link, Jess! I can definitely see what you mean about the fur representing the change of seasons, and the change of seasons in her life. Like falling leaves, the fur is dead.

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