Every Day Use And Miss Brill

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate June 2001

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There is a lesson that can be learned about differentiating between fantasy and reality from the two short stories "Everyday Use," written by Alice Walker, and "Miss Brill," written by Katherine Mansfield. Dee and Miss Brill both lived in a fantasy world.

In the story, "Everyday Use," Mama was a big-boned woman with work-worn hands. Mama's extra weight would help insulate her during the winter months. Maggie, her daughter, was rather plain and simple. She had burn scars all over her body and walked like a three-legged dog. Dee, her other daughter, was light-skinned with pretty hair and a stylish figure. Dee came to visit one day and was wearing a long dress accompanied by allot of African jewelry. Dee did not want to admit her roots came from a poor family. Whether or not she was comfortable in that dress, she had to be socially acceptable, now that she was college educated.

She went into the house and started taking things without even asking permission. When she started to grab the quilts, Mama stopped her and told her she had already promised Maggie the quilts. Dee threw a fit and mentioned that Maggie would probably use them instead of displaying them for their aesthetic value. Dee showed that her idealistic values meant more than the everyday needs of her family.

In the story "Miss Brill," the main character Miss Brill seemed to have no family. She was very naïve and did not communicate with anyone. On Sunday, Miss Brill would visit the park, and, in her mind, the people there would be in a play, in which she too, was an actress. She would eavesdrop on other people's conversation, thinking this gave her an active part in the discussion. She lived alone and had an odd relationship with her mink stole. She would use old-fashioned words like "sweet" and "dear" to an object that did not have life. She spoke of the stole's sad little eyes, instead of dead glass ones. Perhaps she was speaking of the stole's sad eyes as if they were her own, sad and alone. Miss Brill kept her stole in a box in a cupboard. Conceivably, this could be the way she viewed her life, solitary and closed in.

In summary, the way that Dee treated her Mama and Maggie caused a tremendous amount of emotional distress on her family. Dee's fantasy world showed how wide the gap was in her relationship with her family, and how it meant more to her to be socially acceptable, than to accommodate the simple needs of her mother and sister. When Mama took the quilts from Dee, Mama was making a statement that it was more important to have something to use than to keep it for idealistic values. Poor Miss Brill lived in a fantasy world. She thought in her mind she was a young and aspiring woman, when in reality she was old and alone. The lesson that can be learned is that it can be better for us all to face reality for what it really is, than to mask reality in a fantasy world.