What perspective if any does The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie offer on faith and morality?

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the novel The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, the author sketches an accurate picture of a woman, a teacher, who is both arrogant and egotistical - and this seems to have an unethical and unhealthy channel or outlet in her "education" of girls at this time of the century. She is arrogant in that she thinks (or rather "knows") that she knows better than the Headteacher and the education system. She is egotistical in that she knows best the failings/gaps in the system and intends to fill them herself. Unfortunately, a teacher is in some senses, her own boss in this era and once the classroom door is shut she can inculcate these suggestible and devloping young minds with whatever personal dogma she sees fit - scary for parents! Her perspective is that she will be both father and mother,priest and teacher to these girls in faith and morality.

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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You can read a good analysis of this novel here on enotes. One of the major issues of this novel is morality because its theme centers around sexual maturity. As the girls in the Brodie Set grow up, they become interested in sex, and they soon figure out that their beloved Miss Brodie has had an affair with Teddy Lloyd, the art teacher, and Mr. Lowther, the music teacher. As a teacher, Miss Brodie does not set a very moral example for her young girls. She also tries to encourage Rose to have an affair with Teddy, but it is Sandy who does wind up finally having an affair with him.

Miss Brodie is a bully disguised as an avant-garde teacher. She is controlling at the same time she espouses that she has devoted her life to her girls while she is "in her prime." She betrays the trust of her girls and makes some of them victims. In blatantly ignoring the school's curriculum, she models duplicity for her girls. This, coupled with her naive admiration of fascism makes a statement about her morality.

Critics disagree as to whether Miss Brodie is amoral or immoral. Some see her as an amoral person because she is naive and does not seem to understand that her behavior is not appropriate, even harmful. Others see her as a manipulative, immoral, controlling woman. She may be a combination of both. Does she really care about her girls, deep down? Are her passions misplaced, or is she more calculating? What do YOU think?

With regard to faith, this novel is based loosely on events in the author's life. The author herself converted to Catholicism, just like Sandy in the novel, who converts and becomes a nun. This happens at the end of the novel, which is written in part as a flashback. Perhaps the message is that faith is the only thing that can lift one out of the mire and immorality of life.

Read about the novel here on enotes.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Concerning your question about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the issue of morality, or rather the lack of it, is certainly addressed in the novel.  The enotes Study Guide on the novel, in presenting two of the novel's themes, indirectly addresses the issue of morality: 

Betrayal

Miss Brodie repeatedly affirms her commitment to her girls, the proof of which is that she is devoting the prime of her life to their education. She makes an impression on them, attaching them to her by taking them into her confidence. She attaches personally and inappropriately to a chosen group of six students, whom she treats to outings at the theater and invites to her home for tea. Yet, Miss Brodie is verbally abusive to Mary Macgregor; every time she berates Mary as a “stupid lump,” Miss Brodie both betrays her responsibility as a teacher and denies Mary’s humanity.

While espousing loyalty to her students, Miss Brodie habitually sabotages school policy and Miss Mackay’s authority. Miss Brodie is also quick to sense plots to get her to resign. Thus she “teaches” betrayal and distrust. When her chosen set of students are in their senior year, Miss Brodie is sufficiently obsessed with her frustrated attachment to Mr. Lloyd that she attempts to manipulate Rose into becoming his lover. That she is thus willing to treat a student like a surrogate object of vicarious sexual expression constitutes a serious breach of ethics. When Sandy “betrays” her teacher, she is only acting out what she has observed for years in Miss Brodie herself.

Victimization

Mary Macgregor is victimized at the Blaine School. She is ridiculed and scorned by Miss Brodie, and the other students follow suit, valuing their status with their teacher over being kind to Mary. Miss Brodie pushes innocent Mary out of art class, accusing her for instigating the misconduct begun by others. Miss Brodie and the students see Mary as a “stupid lump,” a thing to be kicked around with impunity. Only knowledge of her untimely death at twenty-three causes her persecutors momentarily to regret the way they treated her. Mary Macgregor’s victimization is a cue about the reality of fascist and Nazi racism and oppression. She dies in a fire in 1943, at the same time when millions of people are being reduced to ash in Nazi death camps. Thus, Mary’s role and fate in the novel are poignant testimony to the effects of domination and subjugation. In another way, Joyce Emily Hammond is also a victim. A rebel seeking a cause, Joyce Emily takes up Miss Brodie’s irresponsible recommendation that she go off to Spain and fight for Franco. Joyce Emily dies in a train wreck en route.  

Brodie is unethical when she singles out a group of students for special treatment and special attention.  And she is immoral when she accomplishes this by confiding in them and subverting their education and their relationship to the administration of the school.  Her immorality is heightened when she attempts to manipulate a student into having sex with a teacher for her own benefit. 

Brodie is also immoral in her treatment of Mary and in her careless, unthinking suggestion that a student go off to fight a war.

Brodie is manipulative, petty, ignorant, careless, cruel, undermining, and immoral.  She certainly reveals how not to be a moral human being. 

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