Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The major themes of the novel are betrayal and transformation, or, in Muriel Spark’s more precise diction, transfiguration. For her impressionable wards, Miss Jean Brodie is transfigured—glorified and idealized by the confidence that comes with her belief that she has passed into her prime.
No doubt the woman is personally impressive, but the less imaginative Miss Mackay has a point: Brodie is irresponsible in her naive enthusiasms and in her teaching habits, and this irresponsibility goes beyond her simple contempt for science and mathematics, as Sandy comes to realize. Brodie is intellectually vain and arrogant, proud and overconfident. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life,” Brodie believes. To an extent, she is right, but she teaches the lesson of individuality too well, and as Sandy matures, she changes, accepting the authority of the Roman Catholic faith, while gradually rejecting the authority of her egocentric mentor.
The theme of betrayal works on several levels. Sandy first betrays Brodie by seducing Lloyd, and she also betrays Deirdra Lloyd, the wife she has befriended to advance her conspiracy. (The Brodie scenario called for Rose to be the seducer, an honor Sandy strangely claims for her own, perhaps out of jealousy.) Sandy also betrays Brodie by converting to a religion she knows her teacher does not favor, going so far as to enter a strict convent order. The final betrayal comes when Sandy...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
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Private School Education
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in a 1930s private school in Edinburgh. The interaction between the small staff, the personality of the headmistress, and the way teachers deal with students provide the framework for this novel’s action. The kinds of social behavior and classroom decorum typical of this privileged class and setting are dramatized. While Miss Brodie insists on the girls walking with their heads up and keeping their sleeves neatly cuffed, she colludes with them to circumvent the curriculum and subvert the headmistress’s authority. Pretending to teach the regular subjects of history and math, Miss Brodie instead elaborates on various unrelated topics, all of which are of great interest to her—her World War I financé, her vacations in Italy and Germany, her favorite Renaissance artists, along with information about cold cream treatment for skin and details about puberty. Her classroom is her stage, and Miss Brodie maintains that she is devoting her prime to her girls and that her girls are “the crème de la crème.”
At ten and eleven, the prepubescent girls are curious and shy about sexual matters. They have a sketchy idea about sexual intercourse and make up scenarios about how it occurs. They conclude that since Mr. Lloyd’s wife has had another baby, Mr. Lloyd “has committed sex” with her. Sandy Stranger sublimates her...
(The entire section is 789 words.)