Miss Jean Brodie, the protagonist in Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), is a character of great influence and arrogant dominance. As a schoolteacher in her prime, she believes she has an abundance of wisdom and knowledge about life’s principles that she deeply desires to share with her students. Miss Brodie’s character and disposition, though seemingly a positive influence, in essence leads to her demise. Her intense interest in fascism, her power to manipulate and influence her girls, her dogmatic teaching styles, her betrayal, her arrogance, and her loose morals all play major roles in her fall.
One of Miss Brodie’s principle interests is fascism. She loves dictatorship, as long as she is the dictator. Her model dictators are Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini, all whom she believes to be great men: “[She] is even bold enough to make the general statement, Mussolini is one of the greatest men in the world . . . ” (Miss Brodies fascisti). She admires his methods of terminating unemployment. Miss Brodie, in her place of leadership in the classroom, uses the same techniques as her fascist heroes: “she absolved herself from wrong, placed thoughts into the minds of her disciples, and retained order by inducing fear into her girls.
It is also evident in her prime that Miss Brodie is quite untouchable, managing to foil all the plots against her” (Miss Brodies fascisti). Miss Brodie selects students she knows neither them nor their parents will complain about her (Spark 25). Her fascist ideas prove to be disastrous when she encourages Rose Emily, a member of the set, to fight in the war and before Rose even gets to her destination she is killed. Fascism, a prominent part of Miss Brodies character, gives her a great amount of power to manipulate and influence her girls. An example is when she tells them that teamwork is unnecessary.
One of Miss Brodies girls, Sandy Stranger, ponders joining the Brownies, but “then the group-fright [seizes] her, and it [is] necessary to put the idea aside, because she loves Miss Brodie” (Spark 31). Miss Brodie claims to “give [her] best in [her] prime” (Spark 36), but she instead implants her own ideas into the girls minds, convincing them that her ideas are rational and true. The girls feel obligated to submit because of this and also because they are so devoted to her. Just as Miss Brodies heroes are only successful for a short time, she too inevitably falls from authority.
The girls devotion to Miss Brodie makes them more susceptible to the influence of her dogmatic teaching style, which only perpetuates their devotion. Her methods are self-centered. She teaches the subjects she believes ought to be taught, emphasizing her own opinions and discouraging the girls to have their own (Miss Brodies Conduct). She supports herself with the statement: “It is for the sake of you girls — my influence. now, in the years of my prime” (Spark 25). To Miss Brodie, the most important subject is art. She gives very little credit to the practical use and necessity of science.
She claims that in the order of educational importance, “Art . . . comes first; . . . lastly science” (Spark 24). She intentionally strays from the standard curriculum and when Miss Mackay, the head mistress, learns of this she is determined to terminate Miss Brodies teaching career. Miss Brodie is the victim of circumstances she creates herself (Bold 67). Not all of Miss Brodies girls remain devout to her teachings. While still in junior school, Sandy Stranger comes to an understanding of what Miss Brodie is doing to her special group of girls.
She sees the correlation between Miss Brodie and her girls and Mussolini and his followers. Being one of the set, Sandy feels betrayed. She realizes how much they are controlled by Miss Brodie and how they essentially obey her every command. Sandys objective is then “to put a stop to Miss Brodie” (Spark 134). Sandy betrays her by making Miss Brodies faults known to the head mistress and when Miss Brodie questions her, she only replies, “If you did not betray us it is impossible that you could have been betrayed by us” (Spark 136).
Miss Brodie clearly betrays the girls of truth and necessary knowledge and Sandy takes it upon herself to indeed put an end to Miss Brodie. Throughout Miss Brodies experiences at the school, she is in denial of her responsibility for what she is doing. She is arrogant and acts as though the rules do not apply to her. She risks the lives of her girls yet still believes “that God [is] on her side whatever her course” (Spark 90). The guilt she may feel is quickly projected onto Mary Macgregor, the timid girl of the set.
Miss Brodie blames Mary for things she has not even done; she even manipulates the other girls to blame Mary for their own faults. This gives them excuses for arrogance and self-centeredness (Miss Brodies fasciti). Even when Miss Brodie is dismissed from teaching at the Marcia Blaine School, she still does not see any wrong in what she has done. Miss Brodies arrogance is result of her lack of morals. Though she is raised with Calvinistic teachings and beliefs, she rarely applies them to her life. She rationalizes every act. When she sleeps with Mr. Lowther, the music teacher, she claims it is a “duty” (Bold 68).
At the same time, she is reluctant to sleep with Teddy Lloyd, the art instructor, because he has a family. For one circumstance sex outside of marriage is acceptable, but for the other it is not, at least for her. To fulfill her fantasy of sleeping with Mr. Lloyd, she decides that Rose Stanley, another of her girls, should sleep with him . She takes it upon herself to jeopardize a young girl’s purity. Her immoral life style leads her to lose much of what is important to her. Her girls no longer look up to her, she loses her teaching position, and the men she adored no longer adored her (Bold 68).
We can see Miss Brodie as both a fascinating and dangerous character. She is admired for her rebellion and ability to defy common interest. She is sexually appealing and enticingly different which intrigues the students. At the same time, Miss Brodie is dangerous because of her contradicting ideas and how she denies the girls of free thought. Miss Brodies life is clearly headed toward destruction. Her arrogance and manipulative nature leads her in no other direction. Although she seems to be very insightful, she overlooks the ultimate reality and consequences of her character. She has no one to blame but herself.