Homework Help

What is the narrative technique used in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?

user profile pic

madhulika | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 10, 2009 at 12:17 AM via web

dislike 1 like

What is the narrative technique used in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

ssengupta | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted October 10, 2009 at 3:01 AM (Answer #1)

dislike 4 like

Basically, the narrative technique of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is two-fold: through chronological narrative and characterization. These two aspects of the novel are not treated typically as say, E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel prescribes. For instance, Forster says that most novels employ a chronological narrative sequence. While, Jean Brodie has mostly a chronological order, Spark does introduce some unconventional narrative chronology: telescoping ahead in time and then returning to the novel's "present."

The second interesting technique is characterization. While we acknowledge that the characters of a novel are the ones that move a plot forward, the purpose of characterization is slightly different from that of the characters.

Characters are, obviously, the individual people in a fictional literary work. However, characterization is the deliberate and artistic attempt by a novelist to create a configuration of characters with character traits that, by interacting with each other, not only help the plot along, but that, upon reflection on the part of the reader, reveals a larger scheme, an organizational principle if you will, that conveys to readers the ultimate purpose of writing the novel. In Jean Brodie the characterizations of the six girls in the Brodie Set are interacted with the other characters in the novel such as "Teddy," art teacher or the school principal, but most of all against Ms. Brodie herself, so as to create an ambiance purely by characterization.

Thus, on the one hand we have a chronological sequence that suddenly moves way forward in time. The "enotes Study Guide" explains this very succinctly. I quote:

"at certain points the story suddenly leaps into the distant future, revealing important information that, in a more traditional story structure, would be withheld until it occurs in chronological order. In this way, the present of the novel is seen in contrast to the future, through the lens of retrospect it is reframed and can be reinterpreted."

Like a documentary presentation, the novel presents the the "Brodie Sets'" views on the protagonist many years into the future when the girls are women. Since the whole work is fictional, one can only assume that Spark's narrative technique was geared to give her readers a wider historical perspective -- and with it, Spark's view on ideology -- since much of what was happening in the novel was pre-World War II, and the characters in that time frame had no way of knowing about Hitler what we know about him post World War.

Characterization, too, has an intricate time element. Whatever traits the Brodie girls show (near sightedness, clumsiness, interested in romance and sex) in the novel's presence, Muriel Spark's literary decision to present them in the future as housewives and professionals, readjusting their opinion of their fallen teacher, not only serves to make the work more "realistic," ( one imagines seeing something like this in a television documentary) but also contributes to the novel's ultimate message: the sanctity of an individual's right to choose ideologically without being discriminated against.

In conclusion, we might say that in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the narrative technique involving chronology and characterization are the principal ingredients of the novel's structure, structure being defined as the form which a novelist gives to his or her work by offsetting its purpose, theme, character and chronology.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes