The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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Themes and Colors
Authority and Social Groups Theme Icon
Education vs. Intrusion Theme Icon
Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon
Religion, Predestination, and Narrative Structure Theme Icon
Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Education vs. Intrusion Theme Icon

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a Bildungsroman, that is, a novel that has as one of its themes the formative years or spiritual education of a person. In developing this theme the novel dramatizes the distinction between education and intrusion. Miss Brodie herself defines education as a leading out of what is already in a student’s soul, whereas intrusion, she says, is a planting in a student’s mind of what was not there before. Miss Brodie claims to be an educator, whereas she criticizes the headmistress of Blaine, Miss Mackay, for allegedly intruding. The novel as a whole, however, calls into question Miss Brodie’s distinction.

Miss Brodie rarely instructs her girls in history or mathematics; instead, she exposes them to poetry, makeup, world cultures from Italy’s to Egypt’s, as well as radical fascist politics. On the one hand, it does seem to be her intention to open her students’ lives to the world, to heighten their awareness, to liberate them from parochial custom and convention. On the other, Miss Brodie primarily “leads out” of her students their sexual curiosity, with stories about her dead lover Hugh and the like. Under Miss Brodie’s wing, Sandy and Jenny, for example, become preoccupied with sex, talking and giggling about it, fantasizing and writing about it, going so far as to imagine Miss Brodie having sex with their singing teacher Mr. Lowther. But, hypocritically, Miss Brodie also intrudes: she is a dogmatic teacher, who makes assertions and requires that her students be able to regurgitate them verbatim. She even insinuates her plans into her students’ minds—plans as strange and disturbing as having Rose become Mr. Lloyd’s lover as her, Miss Brodie’s, proxy. This is a rather heinous intrusion indeed.

In contrast, the Senior science teacher Miss Lockhart is the novel’s model educator: a priest in relation to her discipline, who does not regard the girls in her class as personalities but, rather more appropriately, as students. She excites their curiosity on the first day by holding up gunpowder in a jar, enough, she says, to blow up the school; it is by leading out their natural curiosity about science that Miss Lockhart is in turn able to provide their now-receptive minds with new information, which Miss Brodie might dismiss as an intrusion but which the novel, perhaps, would simply call good teaching.

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Education vs. Intrusion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Education vs. Intrusion appears in each chapter of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Education vs. Intrusion Quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Below you will find the important quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie related to the theme of Education vs. Intrusion.
Chapter 1 Quotes

‘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.’

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel opens with the "Brodie set," a group of girls joined together by their dedication to an elementary school teacher, Miss Jean Brodie. Although they have aged out of her class at this point in time, the girls are still defined by their relationship with Miss Brodie. Here we see Sandy, the most clear-sighted and analytical of the group, recalling an earlier phrase of Miss Jean Brodie's.  

These lines reveal the almost unnatural, intrusive nature of Miss Brodie's concept of education, which she defines as the process of "putting old heads on...young shoulders." This controlling method ensures that the Brodie set will be educated according to Miss Brodie's whims, as opposed to any curriculum. It also foreshadows Mr. Lloyd's disturbing portraits, in which he literally paints Miss Brodie's head on her pupil's shoulders. 

The second half of her quote, in which she calls her pupils "the crème de la crème," illuminates Miss Brodie's efforts to choose a select group of students and transform them into exceptional young women through the strength of her influence. This desire to shape the Brodie set's fate is a rebellion against Calvinistic belief. Instead of God determining one's fate, as he does before birth in the Calvinist tradition, it is Miss Jean Brodie herself who has the power to choose souls to elevate to the status of "crème de la crème." This, then, is a secular election and salvation, which Miss Brodie controls. 


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‘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.’

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Although none of them are in her class any longer, Miss Brodie still demands her pupils spend time with her. Here, she has taken the six girls on a walk to discuss the details of a "plot" meant to force her to resign.  

Although it has been suggested that she work at a "progressive school," Miss Brodie is disdainful of the idea of working at a "crank" school. We sense that Miss Brodie does not want to teach at a progressive school because she might blend in with the other eccentrics, whereas she is seen as radical and exceptional at Blaine, or, as she says, "a leaven in the lump." Miss Brodie wants to maintain her authority over her Brodie set, and she also wants to continue to be associated with an exclusive social group, to be in the middle of a dramatic situation.

She speaks to these dovetailing interests in her last two lines here, grandly announcing that the Brodie set will be hers for life. She aims to transfigure these girls into remarkable women. This strident control of her pupils is intrusive and inappropriate, however, despite her claims to the contrary. And for now, the girls simply smile in response, entirely under Miss Brodie's thrall. 

‘But safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first. Follow me.’

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the narrative shifts six years into the past, and we see the Brodie set's first impression of Miss Jean Brodie. She has led her class of ten-year-olds out into the garden, where they pass a sign that reads "Safety First." Tellingly, Miss Brodie rejects the sign's message, preferring"Goodness, Truth and Beauty" over safety. These values are certainly more transfiguring and loftier than that of safety. 

In this moment, Miss Brodie frames herself as being at odds with the rest of the teaching staff at Blaine, and her pupils are struck by the idea that adults can differ from one another. Those girls who will be picked for the Brodie set, we conclude, will follow along a path that diverges from those around them. 

Miss Brodie's disregard for her pupil's safety is, on a basic level, both nobly admirable and irresponsible. By privileging loftier ideals over safety, Miss Brodie ends by playing a part, however passive, in the death of Joyce Emily years later.  

Chapter 2 Quotes

‘The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem trudo, I thrust.’

Related Characters: Miss Mackay
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines occur during Miss Brodie's long walk with the Brodie set, before Miss Brodie must meet with Miss Mackay - presumably because Miss Mackay wants to question Miss Brodie's methods of instruction. In these lines, Miss Brodie offers up an aggressive, hypocritical defense of her methods.  

Miss Brodie claims to "lead out" what is "already" in her pupils' souls, and to be opposed to dogmatic, intrusive methods of normal teaching. However, we see that Miss Brodie is being hypocritical in this moment. Earlier, she mentions that she is putting "old heads on young shoulders," which is an intrusive theory of education if ever there was one. Additionally, Miss Brodie's pupils are victim to their instructor's whims - for example, earlier in the text they are taught that Giotto is a better painter than Da Vinci, merely because Miss Brodie prefers the former. In these lines, then, Miss Brodie is entirely wrong about herself and her methods, and she ironically forces her students to accept her incorrect self-assessment.

Finally, we might compare Miss Brodie's etymology of education with Mussolini's title, II Duce, which means "the leader."

Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

The Brodie set has graduated from the Junior school where they were Miss Brodie's pupils, and are now students in the Senior school. This is the period of time when the novel opens. In their beginning weeks with new instructors, the girls are struck by the difference in education they receive. Here, they are treated as students, not as personalities. Instead of intriguing them with sexually charged personal anecdotes like Miss Brodie did, the instructors (especially Miss Lockhart) depend upon the subject matter to excite their pupils.  

The Brodie set initially finds this change "refreshing," but we understand from the quotation that this enthusiasm for Senior school is short-lived. 

This quote illustrates not only the differences between Miss Brodie and her fellow instructors, but also the stress of having to switch social groups. The Brodie set at first appreciates the anonymity of Senior school - they are not pressured to be personally intriguing, and neither are they expected to obsess over a charismatic teacher. But the novelty of this soon wears off, and the girls become wistful for the strong authority of Miss Brodie, and the familiar roles they played under her control.

‘Phrases like “the team spirit” are always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties.’

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Senior school is in many ways designed to pull the Brodie set apart. Miss Brodie is no longer a constant in their lives, the girls are studying different subjects, and, intriguingly, Miss Mackay has conspired to put the girls in different "houses." These houses often compete against one another in teams. Miss Mackay separates the girls in hopes that their newfound team spirit will dissolve their bonds with Miss Brodie, as well as with one another.

However, when they were in Junior school, Miss Brodie always told her girls that "'the team spirit'...cuts across individualism, love, and personal loyalties." This lesson is first and foremost in the set's mind, and so all of them save Eunice Gardner (a natural athlete) avoid competitve games.

It is deeply ironic that Miss Brodie maintains her authority over her set by making claims about individuality. Instead of allowing them to splinter off, like Eunice, and become different people, she manipulates them into staying linked to one another, and to her. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

‘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.’

Related Characters: Sandy Stranger (speaker), Miss Jean Brodie
Related Symbols: “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace”
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

As an adult, Sandy is a Roman Catholic nun, well-known for her book, "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace." In the second chapter of the novel, a young man who admires her work comes and speaks with her. The novel ends on their interaction, as he asks her about her early influences.

Although the young man offers up several possibilities, Sandy responds with a single influence: "a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime." It is a tremendous irony that Sandy - who cut so violently against Miss Brodie's plans for her, and who went so far as to betray Miss Brodie - names her old teacher as her single, formative influence. The very fact that Sandy rejected the influence so aggressively is the purest proof that Miss Brodie's influence endures.