The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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Spark unfolds her plots not sequentially, but piece by piece, making extensive use of the narrative technique of prolepsis (flash-forward). For example, the reader is aware early on that Miss Brodie is betrayed, though sequentially this happens at the end of their school years. Gradually Spark reveals the betrayer, and lastly all the details surrounding the event are told. Spark develops her characters in this way, too: Joyce Emily is introduced right away as the girl who is rejected from the Brodie set. With this technique, the narrator of the story is omniscient and timeless, relating the entire plot all at once.

Spark creates deep characterizations which are realistic in their human imperfections. Hal Hager, in his commentary on the novel, writes of Sandy and Miss Brodie: "The complexity of these two characters, especially Jean Brodie, mirrors the complexity of human life. Jean Brodie is genuinely intent on opening up her girls' lives, on heightening their awareness of themselves and their world, and on breaking free of restrictive, conventional ways of thinking, feeling, and being"

In The prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark uses certain narrative techniques which reflect the ways of manipulation used by the title character of her novel. On one hand, an omniscient third person narrator is a way for the reader to experience all the character's thoughts and views so that as the novel proceeds, the reader can observe the different views of Miss Jean Brodie by every girl from the set and analyze all the different aspects of Miss Brodie's character. On the other hand, the narrative techniques in the text, such as the specific focalization aspects and the constant use of analepses and prolepses in a visibly authoritative manner, contribute to the impression that the reader's judgements are in fact manipulated by the narrator, although it could seem that there is no particular attitude to characters and events suggested by means of narration.

Obvious to the reader right from the start is the fact that Spark uses many time shifts which keep the reader's attention focused. The time scheme of fast forwarding and rewinding causes the novel to seem more fictional. In The prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the narrator begins in 1936 but soon jumps back to 1930, and then forward again to 1943, the year of Mary Macgregor's death. She then returns to 1939 and then back to 1931. The narrative then jumps forward to 1959 and then returns to 1931. A specific example of this obscure time structure is on page 26-27, "It was twenty-eight years later…It is time now to speak of the long walk…" (Spark [1984]: 26-27). In this particular quotation, Spark begins with the girls at a young age. She then jumps forward to when Eunice is older and living her own life, before going back to the time when the girls are young. Although confusing at times, this format incorporates the past, present and future of the girls in order to show Miss Brodie's influence on them as adults simultaneously with their relationship as teacher and pupils but it also affects the reader's reception of the text in a quite different way.

The jumping of the time scheme, although it adds suspense to the novel as a whole so that the reader does not know who betrayed Miss Brodie or why, does not give the reader a chance to think and analyze the characters. 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. The narration constantly 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.

Another noticeable characteristic of the novel that relates to the narrative is the repetition of various concepts. On several occasions, the narrator alludes to a significant happening early on in

the novel,...
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