The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

by Muriel Spark

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What is the main theme of the book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?

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One could probably attribute many different and interesting themes to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, including themes of sexuality, religion and authority. Probably the most striking theme, however, is the theme of education, which could also be linked to authority—specifically, the problems that can be caused by a teacher imparting their own unfiltered ideas on students.

In the novel, the teacher, Miss Brodie, tells her pupils that she is "putting old heads on your young shoulders," meaning that she is helping them to come out of themselves and explore who they are as people. In this respect, she rejects any science-based subjects and instead insists on teaching them subjects she thinks they will need to improve themselves and live their lives, such as politics and poetry.

The problem is not only what she teaches them, but that her students are only ten years old. As the story will later suggest, they have yet to learn anything about the world and are far too impressionable to hear about fascism and sex. One of the girls, Sandy, who follows Miss Brodie's advice and has sex with Mr. Lloyd, eventually betrays Miss Brodie and becomes a nun.

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I feel Miss Brodie's betrayal to her students, to her school, and to the profession of teaching is the main theme. She chooses her six favorite students and openly lets the other students know they are her favorites. Her abuse of Mary is inexcusable, especially because Miss Brodie starts it. She openly attacks and breaks the school's rules and policies. By her own example of her actions and words, Miss Brodie teaches her students betrayal and distrust.

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