The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Essay - Critical Essays

Muriel Spark


Rather than employing a traditional chronological plot, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie works through flashbacks and glimpses into the future. The secrets of the story are all calmly revealed before they are set in a chronological context. This defeats a typical pattern of building, climax, and falling action, thus focusing attention not on what happens, but on why it happens. While suspense is eliminated, character motivation is highlighted. Spark can manipulate her readers’ responses because she controls the timing. The author likewise manipulates responses to the title character, because readers see her first through the eyes of those who worship her and interpret all of her actions positively.

Another unusual aspect of the novel’s construction is its multivoiced style. Juxtapositions of various levels of language add texture to the novel. Miss Brodie’s lofty speeches on arts or aesthetics are interrupted by her briskly chiding a girl to sit up straight or to stop fidgeting. The narrative voice is fairly uniform throughout, but tone in the girls’ fantasy letters and stories provides humor and an alternate narrative texture through parody. The hilarious imaginary letter that Sandy and Jenny write from Miss Brodie to Mr. Lowther, for example, is a polyvocal combination of adolescent girls’ ideas about sex, legal terms they have read in the newspaper, language from books such as Kidnapped and Jany Eyre, ideas gained from Miss Brodie herself, and formal letter-writing phrases.

It is through such letters that Miss Brodie’s effect on her set is revealed. Although the letters and stories introduce a comic element, the powerful influence of the teacher over her students manifests itself in ways that are more serious. As her girls grow older,...

(The entire section is 735 words.)