Tess of Durbervilles


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