Copyright

Miss Brill Point of View

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we'll investigate the point of view presented in 'Miss Brill' by Katherine Mansfield. The limited third-person point of view used in this short story gives the reader important insights. Let's look at the purposes served by the specific viewpoint story.

What is Point of View

Each story needs a storyteller. Much like there might be two sides to every story, there are several 'storytellers' an author could choose. Consider the situation to be decided in the courtroom, the defense typically has a different story than the prosecution about the same events. In much the same way, the perspective, or way of looking at a situation, is important to the crafting of a story and its revelation of theme. Some perspectives are personal and intimate with a character, others are distant yet reveal the situations of several characters, and still others seem to blend the two. For our investigation of Katherine Mansfield's short story 'Miss Brill,' we will look at its use of the third person, limited point of view (the storyteller knowing the thoughts and feelings of a single character).

A new lens can show a different picture.
perspective

Specific Type

Each point of view provides a unique perspective by which to understand the events of a story. So it is for the third person limited point of view here. For example, one way we know the point of view is the third person is the use of the pronoun 'she' and the use of Miss Brill's name. Through this lens (think of it like putting on specific glasses) the reader is able to follow the main character's actions and even thoughts through the events of the story. We travel with and experience the events along with her. This perspective creates some distance compared to the more personal first- person account which is told directly from the character's perspective using the personal 'I' pronoun.

To be truly sure of this perspective, we need to examine the actions, thoughts, and emotions as described by the narrator. As the narrator walks the reader through the story, the reader gets up to the minute reporting on the main character's whereabouts as they happen and as they arise in her mind. The narrator brings us to Brill's room with her as she shakes out her fur wrap of its dust and later when she sits on her bench. The narrator also sheds editorial light on situations giving her slant on them. In this way, the weather is not clear of clouds, mostly sunny, and warm but 'so brilliantly fine - the blue sky powdered with gold.' Miss Brill passes judgment on all who pass her; noting the beauty of some, the paleness of others and with a slant against the elderly.

At the end of the story, after Miss Brill has been shamed by a young couple, the perspective undergoes a shift. The narration which formerly had been giving almost up to the moment insights on Brill's thoughts and feelings, at least the way she saw them, now only reported her actions and previous actions. This shift, as with most shifts in literature, should grab the reader's attention.

Why this Perspective (Point of View)?

With a common understanding of what the point of view of 'Miss Brill' is, we will now focus on what purpose this serves and why it matters. For any literary technique, it is not only important to recognize and analyze that technique, but also connect its significance to the story. We will begin with what she physically does. As Miss Brill shakes out the fur, she also relates that she is 'rubbing life back into the dim little eyes.' This offhanded remark displays the general mixing of reality, rubbing the eyes of the fur, with her fantasy, bringing life to a lifeless creature. She longs to be in a different world and from her perspective, the reader is able to view this different world through her eyes as she experiences it.

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