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Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie depicts the coming of age of six adolescent girls in Edinburgh, Scotland during the 1930’s. The story brings us into the life and teachings of Miss Jean Brodie, a fascist school teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and gives us a point of view of what the social climate in Europe during the era surrounding the second World War was like. Spark’s novel is a narrative which demonstrates the complexities of social conformity, as well as of non-conformity.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie unfolds several dimensions of femininity. We are presented with a protagonist whom is a distinguished female role model in her imperious, manipulating and sexual powers, powers which we see her use to obtain an apparent influence over the “Brodie set,” or the “creme de la creme.” We see Miss Brodie play a God like figure in the novel, leading, teaching and imposing her opinions on them in hopes they will overturn the typical womanly role and become like her. This literature challenges conventional ideas of gender; from having the woman play a meek character to having them play a strong authoritative figure.
Our protagonist Miss Jean Brodie (emphasizing ‘Miss;’ which spotlights her unmarried status which is unusual for the time) is a repellent and puissant woman of her time. She does not portray the conventional idea of what a woman should be. “She never got married like our mothers and fathers” which is an extremely rare choice to make. She goes against the society’s view of the typical woman by not wanting to succumb to the patronizing idea of marriage. She knows she’s strong and isn’t “in need” of a man. She rejects the notion that in order for a woman to be “fulfilled” ,and “take on her role”, they need to act as caretaker of men and children. Those who believe that codependence is the “way it should be” for a woman “don’t have primes.” She institutes the idea of independence and free thought within the Brodie set. She is a feminist manipulator who uses her charm to a frightening extent; “give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” She uses her influence ,to the maximum extent which is allowed, to mold the girls into what she deems as acceptable. She gives the girls rules, such as absolute loyalty to her, to obey and their fascination with her allows them to be easily manipulated. By taking in the girls as ‘hers’ she is subjecting them to become what her conventional idea of a woman should be on her own terms and not those of her peers.
Miss Brodies’ characteristics are swallowed by the readers as shocking and atypical; echoing that the text itself and it’s ideas of the authoritative woman are unorthodox. The idea of woman in this text is certainly not innocent or fragile. The woman surrounding Miss Brodie are still in the stereotypical role of what a woman is; while Miss Brodie has broken free from those oppressive reigns and has started to explore what gender roles perpetuate within a society. She is breaking the glass ceiling by doing what she pleases instead of conforming to what other’s expectations are. Miss Brodie’s exploration of sexuality and gender roles make her an outcast among fellow characters in the work. The stigma of being “liberated” is of no importance to Miss Jean Brodie but we are left to only speculate as to why. What makes one woman so strong as to go against the formalities of her entire society. She has immersed us into an entirely new world of possibilities in which we are free to question whether our society works for us or not.

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