The students at the Blaine Junior school are young, naïve, and impressionable, which is perhaps why Miss Jean Brodie—as ridiculous as she is from one perspective—can exert her authority so influentially over them, and not just during their childhoods but for a lifetime. Indeed, the insightful Sandy theorizes that Jean Brodie thinks of herself as God, wholly guiltless, wholly in control of her own fate, wholly fulfilled—even though she is perhaps more truly a lonely and eccentric spinster overcompensating for the littleness of her life. Miss Brodie’s methods for establishing authority include taking her students into her confidence, as she does in sharing her romantically embellished love life with them, as well as presenting herself as urbane, cosmopolitan, and artistic, in contrast to the other, more narrow-minded adults in their lives. Consequently, Miss Brodie comes to strike her girls as glamorous, daring, and mysterious, and her charisma enthralls them. However, she also exploits more problematic methods of establishing authority, for example, scapegoating Mary Macgregor, who provides the Brodie girls with a common target for their aggression, thereby strengthening the group’s identity. The novel repeatedly suggests that these methods are not unlike those used by fascist dictators—e.g., Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco—to generate in the populaces they govern both radical, unflagging loyalty and a herd mentality.
Ironically, although Miss Brodie authoritatively preaches individualism to her girls, they as individuals have almost no identities of their own. Each is famous for something—Sandy for her small piggish eyes and insight, Rose for sex, etc.—but they are far more famous collectively, as the Brodie set. In an even further irony, the only thing holding the Brodie set together is the cult of personality Miss Brodie creates around herself, for the Brodie girls as individuals have “very little in common with each other” other than that. The Brodie set exists, it would seem, by Miss Brodie’s authority and for her pleasure alone, and at one point Sandy even imagines that the girls of the set merely add up to “‘one big Miss Brodie.’” That being said, the narrator also reveals that being perceived as a social group by others is yet another factor keeping the Brodie girls together—if other students at Blaine didn’t think of the Brodie set as a distinct social unit, that unit would fall apart. Many social groups, not just the Brodie set, need other groups to define themselves against, after all. But the novel also contrasts the Brodie set with the Girl Scout Brownies the Brodie girls encounter in the Meadows (a large public park in Edinburg), for example, as well as the sports teams at Blaine—groups organized not around a charismatic leader but common interests and goals. These, the novel suggests, are the foundation for a healthier community.
Authority and Social Groups ThemeTracker
Authority and Social Groups Quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
‘I am putting old heads on your young shoulders,’ Miss Brodie had told them at that time, ‘and all my pupils are the crème de la crème.’
‘It has been suggested again that I should apply for a post at one of the progressive schools, where my methods would be more suited to the system than they are at Blaine. But I shall not apply for a post at a crank school. I shall remain at this education factory. There must be a leaven in the lump. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.’
‘But safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first. Follow me.’
‘Miss Brodie says prime is best,’ Sandy said.
‘Yes, but she never got married like our mothers and fathers.’
‘They don’t have primes,’ said Sandy.
‘They have sexual intercourse,’ Jenny said.
Sandy looked back at her companions and understood them as a body with Miss Brodie for the head. She perceived herself, the absent Jenny, the ever-blamed Mary, Rose, Eunice, and Monica, all in a frightening little moment, in unified compliance to the destiny of Miss Brodie, as if God had willed them to birth for that purpose.
Mussolini had put an end to unemployment with his fascisti and there was no litter in the streets. It occurred to Sandy, there at the end of the Middle Meadow Walk, that the Brodie set was Miss Brodie’s fascisti, not to the naked eye, marching along, but all knit together for her need and in another way, marching along.
And if people take their clothes off in front of each other, thought Sandy, it is so rude, they are bound to be put off their passion for a moment. And if they are put off just for a single moment, how can they be swept away in the urge? If it all happens in a flash…
Miss Brodie stood in her brown dress like a gladiator with raised arm and eyes flashing like a sword. ‘Hail Caesar!’ she cried again, turning radiantly to the window light, as if Caesar sat there.
The shuttle of the sewing machines went up and down, which usually caused Sandy and Jenny to giggle, since at that time everything that could conceivably bear a sexual interpretation immediately did so to them. But the absence of Miss Brodie and the presence of Miss Gaunt had a definite subtracting effect from the sexual significance of everything, and the trepidation of the two sewing sisters contributed to the effect of grim realism.
It is seven years, thought Sandy, since I betrayed this tiresome woman [Miss Brodie]. What does she mean by ‘betray’? She was looking at the hills as if to see there the first and unbetrayable Miss Brodie, indifferent to criticism as a crag.
The teachers here [in the Senior school] seemed to have no thoughts of anyone’s personalities apart from their specialty in life, whether it was mathematics, Latin or science. They treated the new first-formers as if they were not real, but only to dealt with, like symbols of algebra, and Miss Brodie’s pupils found this refreshing at first.
‘Phrases like “the team spirit” are always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties.’
Her [Miss Brodie’s] disapproval of the Church of Rome was based on her assertions that it was a church of superstition, and that only people who did not want to think for themselves were Roman Catholics. In some ways, her attitude was a strange one, because she was by temperament suited only to the Roman Catholic Church; possibly it could have embraced, even while it disciplined, her soaring and diving spirit, it might even have normalized her. But perhaps this was the reason that she shunned it…
It was twenty-five years before Sandy had so far recovered from a creeping vision of disorder that she could look back and recognize that Miss Brodie’s defective sense of self-criticism had not been without its beneficent and enlarging effects; by which time Sandy had already betrayed Miss Brodie and Miss Brodie was laid in her grave.
In fact, it was the religion of Calvin of which Sandy felt deprived, or rather a specified recognition of it. She desired this birthright; something definite to reject. It pervaded the place in proportion as it was unacknowledged. In some ways the most real and rooted people whom Sandy knew were Miss Gaunt and the Kerr sisters who made no evasions about their belief that God had planned for practically everybody before they were born a nasty surprise when they died.
She [Sandy] began to sense what went to the makings of Miss Brodie who had elected herself to grace in a particular way and with more exotic suicidal enchantment than if she had simply taken to drink like other spinsters who couldn’t stand it any more.
It was plain that Miss Brodie wanted Rose with her instinct to start preparing to be Teddy Lloyd’s lover, and Sandy with her insight to act as informant on the affair. It was to this end that Rose and Sandy had been chose as the crème de la crème.
By the time their [the Brodie girls’] friendship with Miss Brodie was of seven years’ standing, it had worked itself into their bones, so that they could not break away without, as it were, splitting their bones to do so.
She [Miss Brodie] thinks she is Providence, thought Sandy, she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end. And Sandy thought, too, the woman is an unconscious lesbian. And many theories from the books of psychology categorized Miss Brodie, but failed to obliterate her image from the canvases of one-armed Teddy Lloyd.
‘It’s only possible to betray where loyalty is due.’
‘What were the main influences of your schooldays, Sister Helena? Were they literary or political or personal? Was it Calvinism?’
Sandy said: ‘There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.’