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The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie Analysis Essay

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Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie Essay, Research Paper

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 classroom of Miss Jean Brodie, a fascist school

teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and gives close encounter

with the social and political climate in Europe during the era surrounding

the second World War. Spark’s novel is a narrative relating to us the

complexities of politics and of social conformity, as well as of non-

conformity. Through looking at the Brodie set and the reciprocities

between these students and their teacher, the writer, in this novel,

reviews the essence of group dynamics and brings in to focus the adverse

effects that the power of authority over the masses can produce. Sparks,

in so doing projects her skepticism toward the teacher’s ideologies. This

skepticism is played out through the persona of Sandy Stranger, who

becomes the central character in a class of Marcia Blaine school girls.

Sandy’s character is even more focally sculpted than the teacher’s

favored disciples who came to be known as the Brodie Set; a small group of

girls favored by Miss Jean Brodie in her Prime. The Brodie Set is a social

system and a enigmatic network of social relations that acts to draw the

behavior of its members toward the core values of the clique. The teacher

Miss Jean Brodie projects upon this impressionable “set,” her strong

fascist opinions. She controls this group on the basis that she is in her

prime. Her prime being the point in life when she is at the height of

wisdom and insight. Sandy pejoratively uses the personality traits and

ideology of Brodie to overthrow her, by unveiling them.

Sparks is clearly opposed to the kind of authoritarian power and

control that is exercised over the impressionable adolescents by a

conniving school teacher. The writer thus uses the pitfalls of social

conformity found in classical studies, in order to make specific points.

For example, research done by social psychologists Muzafer, Carolyn Sherif

and Solomon Asch treated social conformity as an aspect of group dynamics

(Coon, 560). This is present in Spark’s novel, as seen by the dynamics of

the group formed by a teacher named Miss Brodie. Brodie’s students, like

the subjects of the said psychological studies, conform to a set of

beliefs under the pressure and power of suggestion despite what could be

better judgement. This is shown in the passage when Sandy expresses the

desire to be nice to Mary, but decides not to because she knew that such

an action would not be in accordance with the Brodie Set’s system of

behavior (Spark, 46). The narrator says about Sandy:

She was even more frightened then, by her temptation to be nice to

Mary Macgregor, since by this action she would separate herself, and be

lonely, and blameable in a more dreadful way than Mary who, although

officially the faulty one, was at least inside Miss Brodie’s category of

heroines in the making. Theorists would say that an individual tends to

conform to a unanimous group judgment even when that judgment is obviously

in error (Coon, 561). The more eager an individual is to become a member

of a group, the more that person tends to orient his or her behavior to

the norms of the group (Coon, 561). This eagerness is true of Sandy

Stranger. Miss Brodie often makes reference to Sandy overdoing things, or

trying to hard. If the Brodie Set must hold their heads high, Sandy held

her head the highest (Spark, 35). Miss Brodie warned that “One day, Sandy,

you will go too far.” Also, the more ambiguous the situation, the greater

the group’s influence on the individual (Coon, 562). When the group’s

judgment reflects personal or aesthetic preference, however, the

individual feels little pressure to conform as is the case with Spark’s

character, Sandy Stranger.

Brodie’s fascism, born of an authoritarian political movement that

developed in Italy and other European countries after 1919 as a reaction

against the political and social changes brought about by World War I, is

projected in this novel as the unsettling proliferation of socialism and

communism in Europe during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The early Fascist

program was a mixture of left and right wing ideas that emphasized intense

nationalism, productivism, antisocialism, elitism, and the need for a

strong authoritarian leadership (Homans, 451). This was the Brodie

ideology. With the postwar economic crisis, a widespread lack of

confidence in the traditional political system, and a growing fear of

socialism, Fascist ideology began to take root in Europe (Homans, 451).

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie takes us into a time when the spirit of the

times reflected Voluntaristic philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer,

Friedrich Nietzsche, and Henri Bergson and to Social Darwinism with its

emphasis on the survival of the fittest. These personalities, like that of

the fictitious Miss Jean Brodie, saw fascism as an effective,

internationally appealing mass movement. Brodie, herself, is depicted as

the personification of this fascist movement in the Marcia Blaine School

for Girls. A movement against which society, as personified by Sandy, must

It becomes Sandy’s mission to examine and expose the dynamics of

how the power of suggestion enforced by an authority figure such as the

teacher Miss Brodie, would adversely affect the socio-cultural dynamics of

school life, freedom of choice and the social liberty of each girl in the

Brodie Set. In the struggle and vie for social liberty and freedom from

adverse indoctrination, Sandy betrays the anti- Catholic Miss Brodie and

defiantly converts to Catholicism by becoming a nun.

Nonconformity, is thus played out as a result of Sandy’s rejection of

the Brodie group norms. Sandy did not observe those norms. Sandy’s

defiance of the group’s norms becomes so great that the society of Brodie,

itself, dissolves under her attach. Sandy’s antagonism, in fact, becomes

the conformity to the norms of a particular subculture that the Brodie

group took a stance against, Catholicism.

Social scientists often examine conformity in the context of

deviance (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 157). Sandy is a deviant as far as

the Brodie set is concerned. It is the Brodie clique, however that shows

behavior that varies in some way from the normative rules of a social

system; the school. The functioning of the Brodie society, however, vies

against what would be seen as a pollution. It is a mixture of conformity,

and deviance in that they remain exclusive. If this group would have

allowed outside input, the range of behavior and belief systems would be

so wide, that control would not be possible (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson,

179). This social group tries to regulate behavior, by establishing

boundaries and excluding others. These boundaries are maintained by the

interaction between Sandy’s behavior which deviates from the norm, and the

agent Miss Jean Brodie that works to control behavior, as well as the

social mores of the Brodie set. Miss Brodie, however, is still able to

force a change of attitude and belief in the young students, which

ultimately leads to the demise of one girl.

Group interactions that mark the outside limits over which the

norm has control generates solidarity (Costanzo, 369). The group norm

remains valid only if it is used regularly as a basis of judgment

(Costanzo, 369). This is true of the Brodie Set. The girls of the Brodie

Set make very few decisions without first making sure that such a decision

would be in accordance with Brodie normative social rules. When facing the

decision of which course of study they would take in the Senior School,

the Brodie girls desired Classical learning. The school’s Headmistress,

Miss Mackay, notes about their decision for Classical learning that they

chose that route of education “because Miss Brodie prefers it…What good

will Latin and Greek be to you when you get married or take a job?” Miss

Mackay was correct in her observation because Miss Brodie’s preference for

Classical learning was the sole reason that Mary Macgregor so eagerly

desired to be allowed to take Classical classes.

The social dynamics of power and knowledge and the epistemological

issues of the sociology of knowledge becomes the centrally explored issues

when the motivation, extreme social ideology and stance of Brodie and her

girls, is examined. The Brodie set conforms and their behavior is in

accord with the expectations of their social group. They express

acquiescence to the norms of that group. Sandy rejects homogeneity.

Spark, in effect, gives, through her antagonist Sandy, her own

ideology as to what knowledge is worth having, and how that knowledge

should be acquired and disseminated. Furthermore, we are given insight as

to dynamics of how knowledge is verified and acted upon.

The novelist approach is less theoretical and more personal. We do

not like Miss Brodie for her way of distributing knowledge and exercising

power. This is not accidental, but arises from, what seems to be Spark’s

own theological erudition and personal experiences. Spark, herself, like

the character Sandy in her novel, rebels by conversion. Spark converted

from Anglican to Roman Catholic during the 1950’s, and clearly projects a

stance against fascism and it’s ideals, in life and in her novel(Lodge,

122). There is thus, the divergence of the basic assumptions of the

dynamics of social power and knowledge as reflected in the author’s life

as well as is projected in her novel (Lodge, 122). This approach then

takes into account concepts that are not merely theoretical but also

There is however personal, some social grouping depicted, that

accords with grouping identified by some theorist (Costanzo, 372). In

Brodie’s group we find elements of the two basic kinds of social

affiliation that most theorists present, sociality by partial fusion, and

sociality by partial opposition (Coon, 563). The “us” as represented by

the “Brodie Set” and the “Other” as represented by Sandy and all other

Catholics and any not sharing the Brodie’s views (Coon, 563). There is

some evidence to indicate that there is a relationship between

self-confidence and resistance to group pressures to conform (Coon, 566).

When we analyze the critical episodes in Brodie’s’s dealings with

her student we find a troubling endurance of a collective judgement of

ideas, that marks the group. Brodie is eccentric in her teaching method

and styles as she manipulates the minds and lives of all within the group.

Spark thus unveils with careful timing, an epistemological

leverage with which Sandy betrays and overthrows the Brodie Set. That

Sandy leaves and becomes a nun is ironic since her strategy for preserving

individuality may still be lost. The interest of any group is the natural

enemy of it’s members individuality. Sandy must not be concerned only with

the loss of individuality, as regards to the Brodie Set, but also with the

danger of fascist ideology. Each individual’s compliance with a group

judgment, is perhaps counter to his or her own judgment, but at this small

group level, conformity dispels individual judgement. Sandy projects to us

that this kind of social conformity under the pressure of authority, is to

be blamed for many social problems and adversities in the individual lives

of the Brodie girls, and in society at large.

1. Coon, Dennis. Psychology: Exploration and Application. West Publishing

2. Costanzo, P. Conformity development as a function of self blame.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 14; 366-374: 1970.

3. Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Larson, R. Being Adolescent. Harper Collins

4. Homans, G.C. Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. Harcourt Brace

5. Lodge, David. The Uses and Abuses of Omniscience: Method and Meaning

in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Ithaca, Cornell: 1971.

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A Literary Analysis of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

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The prime of miss jean brodie analysis essay

January 21, 1962 Splendid by Destructive Egotism By MARTIN PRICE

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie By Muriel Spark

ive years ago there appeared a brilliant novel which dealt with the psychic upheaval of a young woman recently converted to Catholicism. The heroine was filled with doubts and surrounded by doubters; most of all she was troubled by voices which (to the clicking of their busy typewriters) read aloud to her the novel of which she was a helpless part. Eventually she recovered and wrote the novel herself. It was called "The Comforters," the first of a remarkable series of comic tales, of which "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is the latest.

Muriel Spark has a persistent religious theme, the problem of fusing matter and spirit. Her novels are filled with puritanical souls suspicious of the flesh, with charlatans who exploit the yearning for pure spirituality, with old people who cling to outworn bodies and young people who are baffled by the mysteries of the flesh. In "Memento Mori," the octogenarians resentfully receive phone calls that remind them they must die. In "The Bachelors," a demonic spiritualist seeks his physical release in murder while he conducts s�ances. The devil of "The Ballad of Peckham Rye" undoes marriages, and the austere puritan in "Robinson" writes attacks on the dangers of Marian doctrine.

It is, in fact, the doctrine of the Incarnation, the mysterious "acceptance of matter," that provides the point of view from which Ms. Spark can see, with both clarity and warmth, the plight of divided or incomplete people. She writes with cool exactness, a firm voice (each tale has its own) and compassionate wit. In her new novel (originally published last fall, in shorter form, in The New Yorker), she deals with a violent woman whose romantic spirit is impatient with all but the Absolute.

Most of us have known someone like Miss Jean Brodie. She may have been a teacher, as in Mrs. Spark's novel, a somewhat disreputable aunt or an unspeakable cousin, perhaps the mother of one's best friend. Miss Brodie is a preposterous woman. She seizes upon the docile little girls (in a respectable Edinburgh school during the Nineteen Thirties) and makes them her elect, her "cr�me de la cr�me." She spins tales of her dead lover; she tells them about Giotto, she introduces them to the secrets of cosmetics; she tries to make them Europeans instead of dowdy little provincials. Miss Brodie's hectic and undisciplined enthusiasms include fascism as well as Tennyson; each is an approach to the Absolute she seeks. For Miss Brodie has triumphantly entered her "prime." She speaks of it with such conviction that it becomes a visible presence to her girls, like a splendid garment. And yet, ridiculous as it is, Miss Brodie's prime is a vitality of spirit that is just as real as the girls imagined.

Mrs. Spark moves back and forth in time. We follow the six girls of Miss Brodie's "set" from their tenth year to their eighteenth, but we also see their middle age and look back at Miss Brodie from beyond her prime, her betrayal and her death. The central problem of the book is the connection we gradually discover between the vivid posturings of the domineering teacher and the image of one of her girls, now Sister Helena, author of a psychological treatise called "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace," a nun who nervously grasps the bars of her cell as she receives her visitors. For, of all of Miss Brodie's girls, it is not Eunice ("famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamourous swimming") or Rose ("famous for sex") who feels her influence and becomes her counterpart; it is Sandy Stranger, the clever, imaginative one.

Sandy comes, in time, to see Miss Brodie's romantic fervor as inverted Calvinism, the reaction of a religious woman against a dour creed. Sandy alone cares enough to react in turn, cruel in her awakened moral conscience, committed finally (perhaps even trapped) in her own religious dedication as Sister Helena. ("That is not the sort of dedication I meant," says Miss Brodie in her splendid egotism. "Do you think she has done this to annoy me?")

The prime of Miss Brodie involves the two male teachers at the school--the art master who is married and must be romantically renounced (but who keeps painting Miss Brodie in all his portraits of her special girls), and the music master who can be used as a lover and controlled like a child. Finally, Miss Brodie becomes "her own Absolute"; it is, however, "a destructive process, since sources of replenishment are not self-generated." Miss Brodie's sources of replenishment are her girls, so long as she can control them, and she ends by offering them to the lover she cannot have--an idea that carries, for Sandy, a "whiff of sulphur."

All this we see through the eyes of the girls, creatures of unshaped energy in immature bodies, framing their nervous awareness of sex in romantic fantasies ("Allow me," reads the imaginary letter they compose from Miss Brodie to her lover, "to congratulate you warmly upon your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing"). Each of them has her distinctive promise, but in some it is never realized. Miss Brodie becomes the memory of that restless and imperious spirit which may be buried or split, tamed or transfigured. It is a dangerous and destructive spirit at worst, and it can be "beneficent and enlarging." But "Miss Brodie's masterful features becomes clear and sweet to Sandy when viewed in the curious light of the woman's folly, and she never felt more affection for her in the later years than when she thought upon Miss Brodie silly."

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie essays

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie

". she had entered the Catholic Church, in who's rank she had found quite a number of Fascists much less agreeable than Miss Brodie." (125) This could be supporting the idea that the Catholic church in itself was a fascist organisation or breeding ground and that Miss Brodie and the Catholic church were very much the same. It is suggested earlier in the novel that the catholic religion was probably the only religion suited to Miss Brodie's temperament and this could be why she shunned it so.

Miss Brodie represents a woman who is Calvinistic in mind and very interested in the arts. She spoke against Catholicism and attends a rota of non-conformist churches every Sunday. "Her disapproval of the Church of Rome was based on her assertions that it was a Church of superstition, and that only people who did not want to think for themselves were Roman Catholics.aE (Page 85, 1st paragraph)

The girls forming Miss Brodie's fascisti, referred to as "the Brodie set," are selected according to their potential - their potential to be discrete, and their potential to fill Miss B

Project MUSE - There s Something about Mary: Narrative and Ethics in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

"There's Something about Mary:"

Narrative and Ethics in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

In "The Desegregation of Art," Muriel Spark questions the moral and political effectiveness of "socially-conscious art," art which depicts with pathos suffering and victimization. 1 Although she admires the "marvelous tradition" of such art, she claims that it "isn't achieving its end or illuminating our lives any more" (34). This is because it allows for a self-congratulatory moral earnestness that is often exhausted once a given work has been safely consumed. Speaking more specifically about readers of novels and spectators of plays, she suggests that many of them "feel that their moral responsibilities are sufficiently fulfilled by the emotions they have been induced to feel" (34–5). For example, in experiencing pity for the underdog, individuals might believe that they have adequately responded to a work, and it will cease to have any further effect on them; in such cases, Spark claims, art is segregated from life, since readers and audience members are not truly forced to confront the facts and conditions a specific work seeks to address. Instead of art that affectively portrays suffering and victimization, Spark recommends ironic and satiric art which, she believes, allows for a greater inter-penetration of art and life. She does not claim that satiric and ironic art directly affects our conduct; rather, she suggests that it can be more ethically and politically potent than socially-conscious [End Page 228] art because it can have a greater and deeper impact on some of the grounds from which we act, namely, our perceptions, interpretations, and understandings of reality. According to Spark, ironic and satiric art can help to change the ways in which we see the world, and these alterations can be substantive and enduring, cognitive and emotional.

Spark's ideas about the moral and political efficacy of irony and satire are crucial to understanding her best-known novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. and, in this essay, I explore Spark's suggestions by analyzing the theme of victimization in the novel and examining how the novel represents and exposes the process of victimization while simultaneously refusing any simple empathetic identification with the victim. My primary focus is Mary Macgregor, the scapegoat of "the Brodie set," and I consider the ways in which Mary is victimized not only by Miss Brodie and her set but also by the narrator and the narrative of the novel. Miss Brodie and her favorite students reduce Mary from an end in herself to a means to an end, and the narrator and narrative of the novel often collude with that reduction. Moreover, Spark draws readers' attention to Mary's victimization by ironically and satirically depicting the activity of narrating and the often dubious authority on which it rests, for the novel illustrates the ways in which institutional authority and power can produce and legitimate malevolent narratives that place limits on how individuals are interpreted. Early in the novel, Mary is identified as stupid and lump-like, and these characterizations mark her as the accepted, blameable victim of the Brodie set and determine her role in the set's various narratives. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie portrays the ethical and political dangers inherent in narrative and narrating and offers a broad critique of institutionalized power and the narrative authority that such power often assumes. 2 The book is no mere fable, however, and Spark offers readers no simple moral lesson; rather, she involves readers in the victimization of Mary and, through her irony, enables them to become aware of that involvement. 3 Such awareness can have real moral and political impact, since readers are encouraged to acknowledge their participation in victimization in the actual world and to reflect on the role that narrative plays in the process and justification of victimization.

The essay is divided into four sections. In the first, I consider the point of view from which the novel is told. Many of Spark's critics have suggested that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is narrated by an omniscient [End Page 229] narrator; however, I argue that there are good reasons to.

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FREE Essay on Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

DirectEssays.com Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The eponymous heroine in Muriel Spark's 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' is an influential schoolteacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls 1930s Edinburgh. Spark's plot charts the decline of Miss Brodie's influence over a group of her favourite pupils known as her 'Set'. This decline parallels the growing independence of thought and intellectual maturing of Sandy Stranger, a key member of the Set. The narrative is developed from a decisive moment where Sandy is seen to react against the Brodie influence.

Within the Set, Mary Macgregor is employed as a foil to the others. Where they are graceful, artistic and intelligent, Mary is '. a silent lump, a nobody whom everybody could blame.' (p8) Nevertheless, Mary is an integral member. During a walk, Sandy reacts against Set and Brodie thinking by wanting to be nice to Mary:

The sound of Miss Brodie's presence, just when it was on the tip of Sandy's tongue to be nice to Mary Macgregor, arrested the urge. She perceived herself, the absent Jenny, the ever-blamed Mary, Rose, Eunice and Monica, all in a frightening little moment, in unified compliance to the destiny of Miss Brodie, as if God had willed them to birth for that purpose. (p30)

Prior to this point, Sandy, like the others in the Set, is impressionable and happy to comply with the influence of her charismatic teacher. The thought that she might act against accepted group behaviour highlights the fact that Sandy is beginning to think for herself. She recognises that she and her fellow pupils are destined to think and act as Brodie dictates. Spark's use of the word 'frightened', alerts us to the fact that Sandy does not relish the prospect.

This decisive moment is the keystone in the decline of Miss Brodie. From this moment on, Spark depicts in Sandy, a character who begins to react against her mentor, firstly in thought, and ultimately in action. This action results in Sandy 'betraying' Miss Brodie to the school auth.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Summary - Book Drum

Set in 1930s Edinburgh, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is the story of a charismatic schoolmistress and her influence on the pupils of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. One group of girls in her junior class (Sandy, Rose, Monica, Jenny, Eunice and Mary) become known throughout the school as 'the Brodie set', and Miss Brodie herself calls them the crème de la crème. When the girls move on to the senior school, Miss Brodie retains her influence over them, and she takes steps to ensure her continued involvement in their lives.

Miss Brodie's teaching methods are flamboyant and unconventional. She shows an airy disregard for the formal curriculum, choosing to teach her class about Italian Renaissance Art, the virtues (as Miss Brodie sees it) of Mussolini's Fascist regime and her own love life at the expense of long division and the dates of famous Scottish battles. This cavalier and individualistic attitude brings her into conflict with the headmistress, Miss Mackay, who sets about searching for evidence that she may use to discredit Miss Brodie and force her dismissal.

It is in Miss Brodie's nature to sail close to the wind, and Miss Mackay is soon able to build her dossier. It gradually becomes evident to the Brodie set and to certain members of staff that Miss Brodie is romantically involved with Mr. Lowther, the singing master, and that she also carries a torch for Mr. Lloyd, the art master, a married man. Initially, the girls take a keen interest in these events as a means of discovering ‘the facts of life’. As they grow older they become more directly involved in Miss Brodie’s world and in her schemes. Through the machinations of their former teacher, some of the girls become models for Mr. Lloyd at his studio.

Miss Brodie plans to have Rose become the artist’s lover, so she can enjoy a vicarious fulfilment of her own desires. In the event it is the less beautiful Sandy who takes on that role. Astute, sensitive and intelligent, Sandy grows increasingly suspicious of Miss Brodie and resentful of her controlling nature. When one of the peripheral members of the Brodie set runs away to fight in the Spanish Civil War and is killed, Sandy becomes aware that this may be a direct consequence of Miss Brodie’s teachings on fascism, disastrously misunderstood by her ill-fated pupil. Sandy decides to reveal the details of Miss Brodie's fascist leanings and educational slant to the authorities. Miss Brodie is dismissed from her post.

A few years later, Jean Brodie is a broken, though still defiant, figure suffering from a terminal illness. She speculates endlessly as to which of her girls 'betrayed' her, though she never suspects Sandy. The influence of Miss Brodie ‘in her prime’ on the lives of her grown-up pupils is an enduring one. In Sandy's case, it determines the course of her life.

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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 classroom of Miss Jean Brodie, a fascist school
teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and gives close encounter
with the social and political climate in Europe during the era surrounding
the second World War. Spark's novel is a narrative relating to us the
complexities of politics and of social conformity, as well as of non-
conformity. Through looking at the Brodie set and the reciprocities
between these students and their teacher, the writer, in this novel,
reviews the essence of group dynamics and brings in to focus the adverse
effects that the power of authority over the masses can produce. Sparks,
in so doing projects her skepticism toward the teacher's ideologies. This
skepticism is played out through the persona of Sandy Stranger, who
becomes the central character in a class of Marcia Blaine school girls.
Sandy's character is even more focally sculpted than the teacher's
favored disciples who came to be known as the Brodie Set; a small group of
girls favored by Miss Jean Brodie in her Prime. The Brodie Set is a social
system and a enigmatic network of social relations that acts to draw the
behavior of its members toward the core values of the clique. The teacher
Miss Jean Brodie projects upon this impressionable "set," her strong
fascist opinions. She controls this group on the basis that she is in her
prime. Her prime being the point in life when she is at the height of
wisdom and insight. Sandy pejoratively uses the personality traits and
ideology of Brodie to overthrow her, by unveiling them.
Sparks is clearly opposed to the kind of authoritarian power and
control that is exercised over the impressionable adolescents by a
conniving school teacher. The writer thus uses the pitfalls of social
conformity found in classical studies, in order to make specific points.
For example, research done by social psychologists Muzafer, Carolyn Sherif
and Solomon Asch treated social conformity as an aspect of group dynamics
(Coon, 560). This is present in Spark's novel, as seen by the dynamics of
the group formed by a teacher named Miss Brodie. Brodie's students, like
the subjects of the said psychological studies, conform to a set of
beliefs under the pressure and power of suggestion despite what could be
better judgement. This is shown in the passage when Sandy expresses the
desire to be nice to Mary, but decides not to because she knew that such
an action would not be in accordance with the Brodie Set's system of
behavior (Spark, 46). The narrator says about Sandy:
She was even more frightened then, by her temptation to be nice to
Mary Macgregor, since by this action she would separate herself, and be
lonely, and blameable in a more dreadful way than Mary who, although
officially the faulty one, was at least inside Miss Brodie's category of
heroines in the making. Theorists would say that an individual tends to
conform to a unanimous group judgment even when that judgment is obviously
in error (Coon, 561). The more eager an individual is to become a member
of a group, the more that person tends to orient his or her behavior to
the norms of the group (Coon, 561). This eagerness is true of Sandy
Stranger. Miss Brodie often makes reference to Sandy overdoing things, or
trying to hard. If the Brodie Set must hold their heads high, Sandy held
her head the highest (Spark, 35). Miss Brodie warned that "One day, Sandy,
you will go too far." Also, the more ambiguous the situation, the greater
the group's influence on the individual (Coon, 562). When the group's
judgment reflects personal or aesthetic preference, however, the
individual feels little pressure to conform as is the case with Spark's
character, Sandy Stranger.
Brodie's fascism, born of an authoritarian political movement that
developed in Italy and other European countries after 1919 as a reaction
against the political and social changes brought about by World War I, is
projected in this novel as the unsettling proliferation of socialism and
communism in Europe during the 1930's and 1940's. The early Fascist
program was a mixture of left and right wing ideas that emphasized intense
nationalism, productivism, antisocialism, elitism, and the need for a
strong authoritarian leadership (Homans, 451). This was the Brodie
ideology. With the postwar economic crisis, a widespread lack of
confidence in the traditional political system, and a growing fear of
socialism, Fascist ideology began to take root in Europe (Homans, 451).
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie takes us into a time when the spirit of the
times reflected Voluntaristic philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer,
Friedrich Nietzsche, and Henri Bergson and to Social Darwinism with its
emphasis on the survival of the fittest. These personalities, like that of
the fictitious Miss Jean Brodie, saw fascism as an effective,
internationally appealing mass movement. Brodie, herself, is depicted as
the personification of this fascist movement in the Marcia Blaine School
for Girls. A movement against which society, as personified by Sandy, must
resist.
It becomes Sandy's mission to examine and expose the dynamics of
how the power of suggestion enforced by an authority figure such as the
teacher Miss Brodie, would adversely affect the socio-cultural dynamics of
school life, freedom of choice and the social liberty of each girl in the
Brodie Set. In the struggle and vie for social liberty and freedom from
adverse indoctrination, Sandy betrays the anti- Catholic Miss Brodie and
defiantly converts to Catholicism by becoming a nun.
Nonconformity, is thus played out as a result of Sandy's rejection of
the Brodie group norms. Sandy did not observe those norms. Sandy's
defiance of the group's norms becomes so great that the society of Brodie,
itself, dissolves under her attach. Sandy's antagonism, in fact, becomes
the conformity to the norms of a particular subculture that the Brodie
group took a stance against, Catholicism.
Social scientists often examine conformity in the context of
deviance (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 157). Sandy is a deviant as far as
the Brodie set is concerned. It is the Brodie clique, however that shows
behavior that varies in some way from the normative rules of a social
system; the school. The functioning of the Brodie society, however, vies
against what would be seen as a pollution. It is a mixture of conformity,
and deviance in that they remain exclusive. If this group would have
allowed outside input, the range of behavior and belief systems would be
so wide, that control would not be possible (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson,
179). This social group tries to regulate behavior, by establishing
boundaries and excluding others. These boundaries are maintained by the
interaction between Sandy's behavior which deviates from the norm, and the
agent Miss Jean Brodie that works to control behavior, as well as the
social mores of the Brodie set. Miss Brodie, however, is still able to
force a change of attitude and belief in the young students, which
ultimately leads to the demise of one girl.
Group interactions that mark the outside limits over which the
norm has control generates solidarity (Costanzo, 369). The group norm
remains valid only if it is used regularly as a basis of judgment
(Costanzo, 369). This is true of the Brodie Set. The girls of the Brodie
Set make very few decisions without first making sure that such a decision
would be in accordance with Brodie normative social rules. When facing the
decision of which course of study they would take in the Senior School,
the Brodie girls desired Classical learning. The school's Headmistress,
Miss Mackay, notes about their decision for Classical learning that they
chose that route of education "because Miss Brodie prefers it. What good
will Latin and Greek be to you when you get married or take a job?" Miss
Mackay was correct in her observation because Miss Brodie's preference for
Classical learning was the sole reason that Mary Macgregor so eagerly
desired to be allowed to take Classical classes.
The social dynamics of power and knowledge and the epistemological
issues of the sociology of knowledge becomes the centrally explored issues
when the motivation, extreme social ideology and stance of Brodie and her
girls, is examined. The Brodie set conforms and their behavior is in
accord with the expectations of their social group. They express
acquiescence to the norms of that group. Sandy rejects homogeneity.
Spark, in effect, gives, through her antagonist Sandy, her own
ideology as to what knowledge is worth having, and how that knowledge
should be acquired and disseminated. Furthermore, we are given insight as
to dynamics of how knowledge is verified and acted upon.
The novelist approach is less theoretical and more personal. We do
not like Miss Brodie for her way of distributing knowledge and exercising
power. This is not accidental, but arises from, what seems to be Spark's
own theological erudition and personal experiences. Spark, herself, like
the character Sandy in her novel, rebels by conversion. Spark converted
from Anglican to Roman Catholic during the 1950's, and clearly projects a
stance against fascism and it's ideals, in life and in her novel(Lodge,
122). There is thus, the divergence of the basic assumptions of the
dynamics of social power and knowledge as reflected in the author's life
as well as is projected in her novel (Lodge, 122). This approach then
takes into account concepts that are not merely theoretical but also
personal.
There is however personal, some social grouping depicted, that
accords with grouping identified by some theorist (Costanzo, 372). In
Brodie's group we find elements of the two basic kinds of social
affiliation that most theorists present, sociality by partial fusion, and
sociality by partial opposition (Coon, 563). The "us" as represented by
the "Brodie Set" and the "Other" as represented by Sandy and all other
Catholics and any not sharing the Brodie's views (Coon, 563). There is
some evidence to indicate that there is a relationship between
self-confidence and resistance to group pressures to conform (Coon, 566).
When we analyze the critical episodes in Brodie's's dealings with
her student we find a troubling endurance of a collective judgement of
ideas, that marks the group. Brodie is eccentric in her teaching method
and styles as she manipulates the minds and lives of all within the group.
Spark thus unveils with careful timing, an epistemological
leverage with which Sandy betrays and overthrows the Brodie Set. That
Sandy leaves and becomes a nun is ironic since her strategy for preserving
individuality may still be lost. The interest of any group is the natural
enemy of it's members individuality. Sandy must not be concerned only with
the loss of individuality, as regards to the Brodie Set, but also with the
danger of fascist ideology. Each individual's compliance with a group
judgment, is perhaps counter to his or her own judgment, but at this small
group level, conformity dispels individual judgement. Sandy projects to us
that this kind of social conformity under the pressure of authority, is to
be blamed for many social problems and adversities in the individual lives
of the Brodie girls, and in society at large.
Bibliography

1. Coon, Dennis. Psychology: Exploration and Application. West Publishing
Company: 1980.

2. Costanzo, P. Conformity development as a function of self blame.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 14; 366-374: 1970.

3. Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Larson, R. Being Adolescent. Harper Collins
Publisher: 1984.

4. Homans, G.C. Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich: 1961.

5. Lodge, David. The Uses and Abuses of Omniscience: Method and Meaning
in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Ithaca, Cornell: 1971.

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