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The Narrative Structure of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark likes to use an omniscient third person narrator, when she writes her books, as a way for the reader to experience all the character’s thoughts and views. The narrator in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” acts as a sort of fly on the wall, letting the reader observe the different situations surrounding each individual character. As the novel proceeds, the reader can then observe the different views of Miss Jean Brodie by every girl from the set. To tell the story of Miss Jean Brodie’s prime the reader simply cannot take a point of view from one source because each girl from the set was affected in a different way. By collecting all the different point of views the reader can analyze all the different aspects of Miss Brodie’s character.

Muriel Spark also uses a similar brainwashing technique used by Miss Brodie. Spark can give the reader any opinion she wishes them to believe. The narrator tells the story in such a way that all the characters’ opinions on Miss Brodie are exposed. Throughout the story, the narrator bases and manipulates our ideas about the characters. Despite the fact that Miss Brodie might have good intentions, the reader is more compelled to dislike her because of her fascist teaching methods and actions. The narrator proves this by focusing on certain characters, the ones who were most influenced by Miss Brodie’s prime. Such examples are Mary MacGregor’s death which led the reader to believe that she really was as stupid as Miss Brodie predicted. Another is the fact that Rose Stanley was said to be famous for sex, also
predicted and preached by Miss Brodie. This makes it difficult to formulate any different opinion on Miss Brodie.

An intersting feature of the novel is the use of a non-linear time scheme.

-The novel begins in 1936 but quickly jumps back to 1930. On page 10, it says “This is nineteen thirty-six…” and two sentences later it is 1930, “Six years previously, Miss Brodie…”. -Then it skips to 1943 when Mary dies in the fire. “Back and forth along the corridor ran Mary MacGregor, through the thickening smoke…” p.15.

-On page 28, it says “Behind Miss Brodie, last in the group, little Eunice Gardiner who, twenty-eight years later, said of Miss Brodie, ‘I must visit her grave…”.

-On page 33, Sandy is a young girl, “all the girls were holding hands…” and then in the next page, p. 34, Sandy is an older woman, she is a nun, “…tell me, Sister Helena, what would you say was your greatest influence during the thirties?”.

-Another example is on p.63, Miss Brodie is talking to the girls as a woman in her prime, then on the same page she is in a nursing home, a few weeks before she died.

The jumping of the time scheme adds suspense to the novel as a whole. The reader does not know who betrayed Miss Brodie or why, and must read on to find out. Muriel Spark does not want to give the reader a chance to think and analyze the characters, in fear that the reader will loose interest.

The time scheme causes confusion, almost as if the reader is being brainwashed. There is no concentration on a particular time period for very long. Constantly Muriel Spark switches from year to year so the reader cannot focus too long on certain actions of Miss Brodie or any of the characters. When reading the novel the reader cannot form their own conclusions of the set or predict any outcome.

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