Cracking Facade

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I found this story to be very hard to read "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield, not because it wasn't good, but because it was so intense. The lack of participation in life by Miss Brill was so sad. She seemed to think she had a life, but then she realized or used this as a defense mechanism where she thought she had been acting and not really being herself for so long that she had slipped into an entirely different persona. When she realizes this half way through the story, a part of her believes that everyone is just an actor or actress as well.

"She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying" (351).

I took this to mean that a part of her had finally realized, after the previous paragraphs where she had heard the couple talking meanly about her, that she was not needed. Miss Brill felt an overwhelming of emotions that took her until she walked home and put the fur away to process. This break inside of her, where she puts part of herself inside of box, symbolized her attempt to leave part of her true self behind. We first see her questioning herself when she says "What has been happening to me?" (349). I felt that maybe she only believed she was acting before when she realized that she was acting, but really she hadn't been acting at all.  She was just truly herself before and no one actually liked her or paid her any attention unless it was in a negative way. She therefore stuffed the fur into its box and then stuffed part of her true self inside that box as well. Miss Brill just wanted to be herself, but even when her armor cracks (the fur) and leaves her feeling broken, she is at a complete loss as to who she really is or what persona is her true self.

8 Comments

Kayla Lesko said:

I definitely agree with what you said. After reading the story again, I couldn't help but think that the scene with the woman with the ermine toque and the man reflected Miss Brill's situation perfectly. By this, I mean that the ermine toque was trying to be social and was being turned away in the process.

Yeah, I just think I went off on a tangent there.

Melissa Schwenk said:

Kayla, either I missed something in the story or I'm missing something in your comment. Could you please expand on your idea some more?

Kayla Lesko said:

Oh, sorry about that. The scene I'm talking about is on page 350.

The footnote says an ermine toque is a hat with animal fur. Mansfield references the woman wearing the hat by that name. This is interesting, especially since in an earlier footnote that Brill is a type of fish. These two characters are called by animal names. They are never addressed by any human way. Even the boy from the young couple calls Brill a "stupid old thing" (351). Their names also reflect how they are being treated as not even a person.

Melissa Schwenk said:

I hadn't really thought about the characters not being called by their own names, but that makes a lot of sense, but it could also be because no one seems to really know who Miss Brill is. Therefore, you can't really expect people to know her name. Still, I think it has some significance regarding the fact that no one uses her name. It shows her further isolation from other people. I think it's also really remarkable and definitely on purpose that Mansfield would pick a fish that stays on the bottom and usually fades into its background. That seems only fitting considering Miss Brill is exactly the same way, just someone standing around not particularly participating in life.

Carissa Altizer said:

I think it seems cruel to say that she isn't participating in "life." She is an English teacher, so she spends a lot of time in the classroom where she is very involved with other people. She also has a second job reading to an elderly gentleman. She makes an effort to go out into the park and listen to the band and people-watch every weekend. I think she does plenty of things that get her out of her apartment and into society. I think she is just extremely lonely. If she had a husband or lover to go home to, phone calls from kids, or even a wave from a friend or neighbor this story would be completely different. I don't see the story as a woman who isn't in touch with reality, I see it as a sad tale of loneliness and facing old age.

Melissa Schwenk said:

I see your point, Carissa, but I still feel that in order to be actively participating in life and not just simply going through the motions, Miss Brill needs to have something or someone special. Yes, her job does help people. Yes, she helps the elderly gentleman. But we see that she has no specific tie to the world. I think if perhaps names were emphasized that this may have changed things.

I definitely agree that she is completely in touch with reality, but she is confused on who her true self is or does not wish to believe that her true self isn't good enough for everyone else. It's a defense mechanism.

I agree with all of you, in a way. I think I lean more to the defensive side for Miss Brill, like Carissa, but I what you and Kayla are saying.

I feel like Miss Brill is sure of who she is, but she's hurt that no one else approves of it. At the end, it's not that she doesn't know who she is any more when she puts the fur back in its box. She knows who she is, but she knows it's not good enough, which is probably why she hears a cry coming from the box as she shuts it.

Carissa Altizer said:

So sad! The story is just sad!

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Carissa Altizer on Cracking Facade: So sad! The story is just sad
Karyssa Blair on Cracking Facade: I agree with all of you, in a
Melissa Schwenk on Cracking Facade: I see your point, Carissa, but
Carissa Altizer on Cracking Facade: I think it seems cruel to say
Melissa Schwenk on Cracking Facade: I hadn't really thought about
Kayla Lesko on Cracking Facade: Oh, sorry about that. The scen
Melissa Schwenk on Cracking Facade: Kayla, either I missed somethi
Kayla Lesko on Cracking Facade: I definitely agree with what y