Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)


(Novels for Students)

Private School Education

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in a 1930s private school in Edinburgh. The...

(The entire section is 789 words.)