Character and characterisation. Dialogue. Plot. Setting. Theme. Key incident. Narrative mode and structure.
About the importance of the setting of the novel
The novel takes place in various locations in Edinburgh between the 1930s and 1950s. Spark incorporates the city into the story. The main location is the prestigious but quaint Marcia Blaine School for Girls where Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher in the primary school.
Edinburgh is depicted as being a town of contrasts: The girls at the school all come from the affluent Georgian New Town or outlying suburbs and Edinburgh has an important heritage as being a sophisticated European capital city. However, the Old Town is a place of poverty, unemployment and poor housing conditions.
Importantly, the dual nature of Edinburgh is reflected in the two main characters: Miss Jean Brodie. Sandy Stranger.
About the narrative mode and structure of the novel.
Spark uses a third-person omniscient narrator. An omniscient narrator sees and knows everything that happens in the story that he/she is narrating. This means that the reader is given information about what the characters do, think and feel.
The story does not follow a chronological order. Instead, it uses a system of flashbacks and flashforwards in time. The narrative structure allows Spark to incorporate the past, present and future of the characters. It is important to be aware of these time-shifts as they can be confusing at times.
The story opens in 1936, when the Brodie Set are 16 years old, and in the fourth form of Secondary School. It then jumps back to 1930, when the girls are 10 and are being taught by Miss Brodie at Primary School.
The story then follows a fairly straightforward time sequence from 1930 to 1939, which details the girls’ two years being taught by Brodie and then their transition into Secondary School and beyond. Within this, there are a number of flashforwards in time to the 1940s and 1950s and the adult years of the Brodie Set and the death of Brodie at the age of 56.
Why are flashbacks used? They allow Spark to clarify or explain the reasons behind what the characters say and do. By examining their past, we can understand their present. They explain the cause and extent of the influence/hold that Brodie has over her girls.
Why are flashforwards used? They allow us to see how the main characters develop over time and we gain a deeper understanding of them. We are able to see the consequences of the hold/influence that Brodie had on the girls. We see to what extent she shaped them into the adults they become.
About the main characters in the novel and the key areas of discussion surrounding them.
The unconventional junior school teacher at Marcia- Blaine who believes that she is in the prime of her life and that it is the good fortune of the chosen pupils in her “set” that they can share it with her.
To what extent can she be described as: Full of contradictions? Dogmatic? Fascist? Hypocritical? How can we describe her conduct in the classroom? In what ways does she live a double life and have a dual nature? To what extent does she manipulate and betray her pupils? To what extent is she disloyal to her school and colleagues?
One of Miss Brodie’s “set” and ostensibly her most loyal and closest confidant.
Why does Sandy make the decision to betray Miss Brodie? In what way is she more aware of Miss Brodie’s true nature than the other girls in the set? To what extent does Sandy live a double life and have a dual nature?
The group of pupils chosen by Miss Brodie, when they are 10, for their loyalty and discretion and who become her “disciples”.
Monica Douglas. Sandy Stranger. Eunice Gardner. Rose Stanley. Jenny Gray. Mary Macgregor. Joyce Emily Hammond (joins briefly when she is 16). They are taught by Brodie in the junior school for two years between the ages of ten and twelve in 1930-1932. When they move to the secondary school and beyond they remain very close to her.
To what extent does Miss Brodie shape them into the adults they become? To what extent does Miss Brodie manipulate and betray them? To what extent are they loyal to Miss Brodie?
About the main themes in the novel and how they are represented by the main characters.
Miss Brodie is fascinated by the philosophy and politics of fascism. This has a great influence on her style of teaching and she controls her “set” like a fascist regime.
Miss Brodie She is disloyal to her school and colleagues. She manipulates, deceives and betrays her pupils. Sandy Stranger She is initially very loyal and supportive of Miss Brodie but gradually comes to the decision that she must betray her.