'Miss Brill' The Third Person-Point of View as used by Katherine Mansfield in "Miss Brill" Katherine Mansfield's use of the third person, limited omniscient point of view in "Miss Brill" has the effect of letting the reader see the contrast between Miss Brill's idea of her role in life and the reality of the small part she truly plays in world around her. In one short Sunday afternoon, the main character's view of herself changes dramatically different changes. Until the end, the reader does not realize the view is like a mirror at a carnival, clear on the outside edges and distorted in the centre. Mansfield's use of the story's point of view causes her readers to look inside themselves to see if they also view life as Miss Brill does: as they wish it to be, not as it is. In the beginning, Miss Brill sees herself as an observer of life, somehow separate, but yet an integral part of life. From the first sentence, "Although it was so brilliantly fine -- the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publique's" (49), the reader is made aware of her wonderfully vivid imagination.
She seems to notice everything. In addition, she paints it in such words that we see it also. As readers, we want to believe that Miss Brill really has a deep understanding of the world around her. Yet Miss Brill wishes to be a part of the world and not apart from it, so we see her view shift to include herself.
Now we begin to wonder about her grasp on reality. She believes that she is an "actress", that she and everyone else has a specific part to play on this "stage" of life within the park. Her belief in her own importance in this play is displayed in her statement, "No doubt somebody would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was a part of the performance after all." (51) This sentence begins the transition of the reader's view of Miss Brill. There is a touch of foreshadowing in her imagined statement to the old man that she reads to; "Yes, I have been an actress for a long time." (52) This statement causes the reader to wonder how much of what came before was real and how much was fantasy. Early in the story Miss Brill lets us know that she feels she is different from the other regulars in the park when she thinks of them: "They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even-even cupboards!" (51) In the final paragraph, Miss Brill sees herself going "into the little dark room-her room like a cupboard" (52) and this is when she realizes that she is no different than the other old people in the gardens.
The catalyst for this transition comes from the overheard conversation between the young couple that sits on her bench. When the young girl rebukes his advances and the boy asks, "But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there?" Why does she come here at all-who wants her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home?" These statements shatter her fantasy and her fears are realized as she sees herself as others do. Katherine Mansfield has brought her readers through the maze of Miss Brill's imagination. In the end, one has to have a great deal of sympathy and maybe even some empathy for Miss Brill. The reader is saddened to think that Miss Brill had only her fantasy to live in and now she has lost even that small comfort. She is obviously a very imaginative and intelligent woman.
Now that the fantasy is shattered, what joy can remain in her life? Will she remain one of those 'others' that just sit on the benches and watch the world pass them by? Will Miss Brill's revelation be enough to motivate her to change or is it to late? The questions come to the readers, "Am I one of those 'others' who just sit and watch the world go by? And if so, is it too late for me to change?" Katherine Mansfield's artful use of the third person, limited omniscient point of view allowed Mansfield to keep hidden Miss Brill's fears and the reality of her life. If the reader had been given the thoughts of any of the other characters, the fantasy would have been destroyed in the beginning of the story, ruining any effective use of foreshadowing. Even Miss Brill's thoughts in the first person point of view would have given away her fears and made the story totally different.