In the novella, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark, why does the author use the narrative technique of Prolepses and analepses?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In literature, the use of flash backs is quite common. Flash forwards are less renown but equally effective in establishing a course rather than a direction and theme of a novel. Often the characters reveal their characteristics through the use of these rhetoric devices. In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, flashbacks (analepses) and flash forwards (prolepses) help establish the motivations of Miss Brodie's girls as they exist as a group, or "the Brodie set," and also, as individuals who develop, whether collectively or individually and, "with a definite difference," in terms of their relationship to Miss Brodie. Her impact is felt in the past, the present, and the future. 

Miss Brodie, in her "prime," teaches the girls far more than a standard education, intent on creating a group of well-informed, self aware girls and it is for this that she will be frowned upon and mistrusted. Although she no longer teaches them as she remains in the junior school, she still meets and consults with them and is especially interested in establishing who is trying to make her resign this time. 

Miss MacKay, the headmistress, constantly seeks ways to have Miss Brodie removed and, using proplepsis, the reader learns that someone will, in fact, betray Miss Brodie. It becomes progressively apparent that it is Sandy, Brodie's "special confidante," which leads to Miss Brodie's resignation. This insight drives the plot forward and ensures that the reader recognizes what influences Sandy and the other girls, especially as Sandy has an affair with the married, Roman Catholic Art master, Mr Lloyd almost in protest. The reader is able to anticipate events and form conclusions through the use of this method of storytelling. 

The analepsis at the beginning of the story, as the reader is introduced to the girls, aged about ten, establishes the girls' individuality. Sandy is well-known for her "little screwed up eyes," and Eunice for her "sprightly gymnastics," for example; each girl having a defining characteristic. The group identity means that the girls view Miss Brodie with "understanding of various kinds."

Stark is able to draw her reader's attention by inserting relevant up to date information into a seemingly innocent rendition of something from the past. It also ensures that the reader recognizes  Miss Brodie's attempts to influence her "set" on an ongoing basis, their learning curve  being of the utmost important to her, especially as she is in her "prime." The reader also accepts the choppy narrative as similar to the life of a pre-teen and teen girl as she must form her own opinion of the ever-confusing world. The news of Mary's unfortunately short life and her uniqueness as being nothing more than "stupid," gives the story, through this prolepsis, a reality check, preventing it from becoming a mere retelling of the past. It also cements the need to learn from every experience and the reader receives almost a warning to not ignore past experiences or lessons. Poor Mary did have an epiphany, a moment of realization, that her best years had been spent in Miss Brodie's presence but it is not enough to prevent her unfortunate end. 

The techniques used by Spark enhance Miss Brodie's own characterization. She is apparently a presumptuous woman, aware of her influence on the children and has an unshakable self-belief. Using prolepsis and analpsis to prove that she "is Providence..[and] sees the beginning and the end," is fitting in completing the picture of Miss Brodie. 

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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