How is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie different from traditional and conventional literature?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Muriel Sparks wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as a postmodernist novel which is dissimilar to traditional and conventional forms of literature. Traditional and conventional novel construction, among other things, relies heavily on the omniscient third-person narrator which could alternately tell each character's thoughts, feelings, motives, perceptions in addition to their conversations and actions. There is also a reliance on continuity of chronology: For example, the end comes at the end, it doesn't obtrude into the narrative as it progresses. There is also a reliance on communications of moral value, representation of classic aesthetic, detailed description of characters and environments.

Postmodernist novels, like Muriel Sparks' novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, break with the elements listed above and instead follow the modernist traditions, however, postmodernism even goes beyond the boundaries of modernism. Modernism and postmodernism both reject the traditional and conventional distinction between high and low literature, preferring to view common people and common issues, problems and dilemmas as of equal importance with characters from the elite of society with refined moral dilemmas and noble conflicts. Modernism and postmodernism also view time as fragmented with discontinuity, which opposes traditional chronological literature. This fragmentation and discontinuity leads to a-chronological ambiguity, simultaneous occurrences, and destructured, decentralized, dehumanized characters.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie provides an example of this kind of character construction. Miss Jean Brodie's inner life is never revealed, which dehumanizes her; she is identified by the mottoes she repeats more than by her thoughts, feelings and experiences, which decenters her and gives the reader a destructured character. Finally, where traditional conventional literature presupposes a logical, coherent world in which aesthetic is universal and morals are edifying, modernism emphasizes the presence of fragmentation and a resultant void that literature can fill. On the other hand, postmodernism denies that the void, in individual characters or the world at large, can be filled and is willing to celebrate the void and make use of the nonsense of a fragmented modern world.

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