Tuesday, 14 February 2017
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - an Analysis
The characters in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie represent at least four sets of opposing ideologies, the first of which is Jean Brodie's progressiveness and Mrs. Mackay's conventionality.
The other two conflicts are expressed in the interaction of Jean Brodie and her pupil, Sandy, the former being unselfcritical, pro-Fascist and, Calvinist the latter self-critical, anti-Fascist and Catholic.
Jean Brodie's progressiveness is obvious from her insistence on individualism rather than team-spirit and this influenced the behaviour and appearance of the young girls in her charge who all bore the Brodie stamp. For example, Rose Stanley's hat was..."dented in the crown on either side", and Sandy Stringer wore hers "turned up all round."
Jean Brodie was eventually dismissed for teaching Fascism, and there are several telling references to her stance.
· Sandy recalled Miss Brodie's admiration for Mussolini's marching troops.
· "Mussolini is one of the greatest men in the world."
· "Mussolini has performed feats of magnitude."
Miss Brodie's actual progressiveness has a Fascist element, which reminds one of Hitler's approach toward the Hitler Youth:
"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life," she said.
Another, even more chilling reference to Miss Brodie, a reference that might be said of any dictator was:
"If the authorities wanted to get rid of her she would have to be assassinated."
These examples show her belief in the righteousness of her actions and the arrogance which allowed her Fascism free rein.
Calvinistically, she believed she was above and beyond the other teachers and the authorities in her own eliteness: "...she was in no doubt that God was on her side whatever her course." Throughout the text we are aware that she considers her actions to be outside the context of right and wrong.
From the beginning, conflicts reveal a disparity between Brodie and Sandy: "I have my eye upon you, Sandy, I observe a frivolous nature."
The Victimisation of Mary Macgregor
The most insidious assumption within the text is the callous treatment of Mary Macgregor. Jean Brodie's lack of compassion for Mary seems monstrous; she is blamed instead of helped, as though her slowness were her own fault.
Brodie says, after a dispute between the girls:
"Sandy cannot talk to you if you are so stupid," and "I'd rather deal with a rogue than a fool."
Even Sandy was intimidated by Jean Brodie into being frightened by her own inclination to be kind to Mary Macgregor. When the girls giggled in sympathy, it was Mary who was marginalised, jerked to her feet and propelled towards the door by Jean Brodie.
Later, Jean Brodie thought back to Mary's death, wishing she had been kinder, but her attitude was patronising and rooted in self-interest rather than respect for human dignity. Her only regret was that if she had been kinder to Mary, the girl would not have betrayed her.
The text exposes with uncompromising directness the assumption of Brodie's that people who are "stupid" do not have normal feelings and passions. This coldness and arrogance together with her ability to exert her power, are the most frightening aspects of Brodie's character.
"All at once Sandy realised that this was... a kind of Brodie game."
These games show themselves most tellingly in Jean Brodie's guile, and tend to disguise her progressiveness as well as her attempts to organise other people's lives.
"The woman was obsessed by the need for Rose to sleep with the man she herself was in love with," and "She thinks she is Providence, thought Sandy, she thinks she is the God of Calvin."
Playing games made a victim of Jean Brodie, who did not, by the end of the book, know who should could trust. She decided Mary's death was a judgement on Mary for her betrayal, but Sandy disagreed: "It's only possible to betray where loyalty is due."
Nothing is as might be expected and in many, many ways, our assumptions are challenged. Rose Stanley was falsely famous for sex, Mary Macgregor, who tried hard, was abused, the girl with small, untrustworthy eyes who betrayed Jean Brodie was actually a deep-thinking, concerned woman, and the endearing, exciting Jean Brodie was a self-centred Fascist.
Finally, betrayal from Jean Brodie's viewpoint was not betrayal from Sandy's.
· Spark,Muriel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Macmillan, 1961.
· Eagleton, Terry, "Marxist Criticism", Literature in the Modern World, Open University,1993.
· Machery, Paul, "The Text Says what it Does Not Say", Literature in the Modern World, Open University, 1993.