In literature, there often seems to be a mysterious, hidden aspect. Often, a writer intentionally crafts his story to include a deeper meaning, but, sometimes, a writer’s sub-conscious is at play. In Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” (1920), I would strongly argue that the motivations behind Miss Brill’s actions are caused by the mental illness, schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is “a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by a deficit of typical emotional responses” (Wikipedia). Mansfield’s narration of Miss Brill’s providing the reader with Brill’s thoughts and emotions indicate she is not a stable individual. Therefore, Miss Brill is mentally debilitated with schizophrenia. Throughout the entire story Miss Brill’s thoughts and emotions indicate she is mentally unstable.
The first warning that she may be mentally conflicted is when she apparently hears her beloved fur scarf talking to her. What has been happening to me? ’ said the sad little eyes” (Mansfield 538). A common symptom of schizophrenia is auditory hallucinations which we see in this quote and also at the end of the story when Miss Brill hears crying coming from the box the fur scarfs is laying in. This can also be interpreted as a cry for help from her inner conscious. Some people have seen her hallucinations as how she truly feels on the inside, I believe differently. Miss Brill’s hallucinations are just one of her multiple signs of having schizophrenia.
Her auditory hallucinations are not the only reason for my thoughts of her being schizophrenic; she also has the symptoms of bizarre delusions and significant social dysfunctions (Wikipedia). Her delusions are seen when she comes up with the idea that “It was like a play. It was exactly like a play” (Mansfield 539), “it” referring to her observing the lives of other people. She believes her and everyone she is sitting with at the park are all actors, acting out a performance on a stage. Her delusions go even further when she wondered if the “sky at the back wasn’t painted? (Mansfield 539), and also when she refers a small dog walking in the park as a “theater’ dog” (Mansfield 539).
These can be seen as harmless observations, but the ways her thoughts form together cause the reader to question her sanity. Her wild imagination can be seen as a sign of a mental problem; she is disconnecting from reality and hallucinating a fantasy world. These unusual thoughts and others are what have caused her to have social dysfunctions. Not being able to communicate socially with surrounding people is another symptom seen in schizophrenics, and also seen in Miss Brill.
She does not realize her social dysfunction; she believes she is a very social person, “Miss Brill always looked forward to conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought…” (Mansfield 538). Unfortunately her social skills are very limited, as seen throughout the story she makes no verbal contact with any human, she spends her whole Sunday listening in on other people’s conversations and initiating herself into the conversation in her thoughts, almost as if she was a part of their life. Her lack of social skills is a reason I recognized her as having a mental disorder.
This problem and other factors are what have caused me to believe Miss Brill is a schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder not seen a lot by people outside of a hospital or mental health facility. It has multiple symptoms, from an outsiders point of view the person may seem just different but a mixture of these symptoms will make the disorder definitely known. In this short story Miss Brill seems as if she is just lost in her own thoughts, but if you look deeply into her thoughts and actions it is recognizable that she is mentally unstable.
Mansfield’s use of the hallucinations to the lack of social skills made it is simple for me to conclude that Miss Brill has schizophrenia. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so do you think its imagination or insanity?