Structurally, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of Spark’s simplest novels, focusing as it does on a single character’s influence upon those who are closest to her. The protagonist is Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher at a staid Edinburgh school. At first, she seems to be a highly sympathetic character because of her passion for teaching and her independence of spirit. Instead of merely drilling her students, she tries to develop their minds. Even her bitterest enemies cannot deny the fact that the small group of girls chosen to be her intimates, “the Brodie set,” seem to have a great deal of knowledge about music, art, history, political science, and current events. It would seem that these girls are indeed fortunate.
As Spark describes the gatherings of the Brodie girls, however, it becomes clear that Miss Brodie’s influence is not altogether benign. She expects the few girls whom she chooses from her class to be totally loyal to her alone throughout their time in school. She ridicules the concept of team spirit, so that they will have no other attachments in their later years, when they would normally be in other groups. Furthermore, she manipulates the girls by insisting that she can perceive their real identities and by assigning roles to them based on those arrogant assumptions. Thus, Eunice Gardiner is the gymnast, Sandy Stanger, the reciter of vowels, and Rose Stanley, the sexual specialist. It is obvious that, while Miss Brodie...
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