In his introduction to the story, Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield, Michael Meyer says, "Mansfield tends to focus on intelligent, sensitive protagonists who undergo subtle but important changes in their lives" (226). Two key questions in Miss Brill are what kind of intelligence and sensitivity does she posses, and what is the true nature of the change that she undergoes as a result of the young man's cruel remark about her, "But why not? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there? Why does she come here at all - who wants her?" (Mansfield 229).
Miss Brill's turns her sensitivity outward rather than inward. She possesses keen eye for outward appearances and detail, but has little knowledge of inward life. As
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"It was like a play. I was exactly like a play" (Mansfield 228). She sees herself on stage acting, part of a fascinating drama that occurs each Sunday, and she surmises that "no doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was part of the performance..." (Mansfield 228). She even imagines that the old man she reads to once a week sees her as an actress and replies to his imaginary question about her, "Yes, I have been an actress for a long time," (Mansfield 229). While she is sensitive and imaginative, creating roles for others as well as herself, she uses them to mask her lonely and empty inner life.
When the young man rudely says nobody wants Miss Brill there, and his girl friend compares her treasured fur to a "fried whiting," Miss Brill walks home without stopping at the bakery for honey cake, her usual Sunday treat. Instead, she goes directly home, puts the fur back in its box, and when she puts the lid on, she thinks she hears something cry (Mansfield 229). According to Rhoda Nathan, while Miss Brill undergoes a change, she is not consciously aware of exactly what has happened to her:
As she puts away her Sunday fur, she imagines she hears something crying in the box. So inauthentic
is her life, made up of second hand experience as well as second hand furs, that she is incapable of
recognizing the origin of her tears,