Point of View in Miss Brill
In Miss Brill, Mansfield, by using limited omniscience, slowly exposes the loneliness that Miss Brill is feeling by revealing a little at a time, sometimes through thoughts, and other times by actions, whilst always leaving the reader with more than one possible understanding. It is used to slowly inform the reader of the situation at hand, which makes the reader want to know more, while at the same time let’s them form their own opinion. It creates a new meaning with each read.
Limited omniscience, which means that the narrator does not take part in the story, yet can enter the mind of a character, was used to create a different gist with every read.The narrator does not offer an explanation for what is happening, but instead leaves it to the reader to figure out. For instance, in the beginning of the novella, the narrator says “And when she breathed, something light and sad – no, not sad, exactly – something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.” (33) The narrator follows solely what Miss Brill is feeling, or perhaps what she wants to feel. It is not made known whether the feeling was indeed a sadness pushed aside, or if it truly was a gentle feeling, not a sad one at all. The limited omniscience is further used to enhance the story. It switches from reality to Miss Brill’s thoughts seamlessly. Mansfield writes “They were all on stage… Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn’t been there; she was part of the performance after all.” (35) The narrator isn’t telling if anyone really would notice her absence, but simply repeating what Miss Brill thinks, or rather wishes. Perhaps life really is like a play, but the reality is that her absence would not cause a stir, or a mix-up. It is left to be presumed that it is all in her head. Another example of the narrator telling the reader how Miss Brill sees things, but giving no input himself happens after Miss Brill’s rejection at the park. The narrator says “On her way home she usually bought a slice of honeycake at the baker’s. It was her Sunday treat…. But to-day she passed the baker’s boy, climbed the stairs, went into the little dark room —her room like a cupboard… She unclasped the necklet quickly; without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.” (36) Yet again, the idea that Mansfield wishes to communicate is left up to the reader to decide. Perhaps she did hear something crying. More likely than not, it was her imagination. But either way is an arguable point. By not using an editorial omniscience Mansfield was able to leave everything up for interpretation because there was no influence in ideas from the narrator. In this way, she was able to achieve her meaning.
Limited omniscience is used to let the reader take away their own understanding from the story. The meaning of the story is very general, yet the purpose would be for the reader to be able to interpret it in their own way. Mansfield writes
“Miss Brill was glad she had 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 down – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched the fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes.” (33)”
In this piece, one can see how the narrator can tell what Miss Brill is thinking, yet holds some things back, such as where she was going or what time period it is. The reader is even in the dark as to who Miss Brill truly is. Nothing is known about her life except that she is walking, wearing her fur, and there is a slight chill in the air. That hardly gives the reader something to work with, yet this technique draws the reader in. Fur is often associated with wealth, so one can assume Miss Brill is wealthy, or merely putting on airs. The narrator hasn’t talked about her status though, so it is only something one can presume. As the story continues, Miss Brill wanders into a park. She sits down in what she calls her “special seat” in front of a bandstand, and realizes that it is only she and an older couple who share such a seat. The narrator discloses that “[The elderly couple] did not speak. This was disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked forward to the conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives for just a minute…”(34) Slowly letting us deeper into Miss Brill’s life, it seems that Miss Brill is perhaps lonely. She listens in on conversations, but it is not made known as to why. She could be lonely, or she could just be interested. The narrator does not go so deeply into Miss Brill’s thoughts that it is said why Miss Brill listens in. The depth of her unwanted solitude soon surfaces. To some it seems she became slightly delusional in her quest for company, dreaming of how life is just like a play in which she is part. To others it may just be a sad woman with a longing for companionship. Mansfield leaves it up to the reader to decide. Miss Brill, happy in her dreams, blathers on, saying “Yes, we understand, we understand, she thought – though what they understood she didn’t know.” (36) It seems as if she is looking to become a part of something. She wants to feel wholeness with her community, and is searching for it in any aspect of life. By using limited omniscience, the reader slowly begins to understand how lonely Miss Brill truly is. It is achieved by slowly leaking the sadness she feels, and how she had tried to push it aside, but how it really is an underlying factor in every part of her life.
Of course, limited omniscience has a clear effect on the story. This point of view leaves the true meaning to be deciphered by the reader alone. Mansfield set up all the pieces of the story, but in the end, it is the reader who must decide. The effect is one of mystery, leaving the reader asking “Is this really what happened?” The narrator gives us only what Miss Brill thinks, never his own thoughts, leaving the reader to wonder. As Miss Brill sits by the bandstand, she observes a few things happening, and with each one, the band reacts by playing their music accordingly. If something was exciting or happy it would seem that the pace would increase “And the band sounded louder and gayer.”(34) If it was a sad moment, the opposite would occur. One is left to speculate if this was not just in Miss Brill’s mind. Without limited omniscience, the reader would not have the option to guess and formulate their own ideas, making Miss Brill a very unique novella.
Using limited omniscience, Mansfield was able to create a distinctive feel to her story, which manipulated the meaning and idea. It was used to let the reader decide what the real meaning was, and it was also used to reveal small amounts to the reader at a time, which was captivating. All in all, Mansfield’s point was communicated soundly by her choice to use limited omniscience.