The Persuasion of a Lifetime: Jane Austen’s Swan Song through a Critical Lens Critical Essay
Updated: Jun 19th, 2019
Introduction: Persuasion through the Prism of Time
Talking about the impact that Jane Austen had on the English Romanticism takes hours. Jane Austin created a number of other works that touch upon not only personal, but also social and ethical issues. One of these works, Persuasion, is famous for the moral issues serving as the key themes of the novel.
Despite the fact that Austin raises a wide range of social issues in Persuasion, Jane Austen’s novel actually revolves around two basic themes, i.e., persuasion and pride; making it clear that there is a close relation between the two, Austen shows graphically that the tortures of persuasion that the leading characters trap themselves and the people close to them into stem from their pride and inability to overcome the latter.
The Main Themes: Reading between the Lines
The trap of tautology: persuasion in Persuasion
As it follows from the title of the novel, persuasion actually is its major theme, which the entire plot revolves around; indeed, considering the motivations of each character closer, one will see inevitably that their actions have little to do with what the characters actually want.
Guided either by their own principles, as in case of Sir Elliot, or by the convictions of others, as in case of his daughter, the key female protagonist in the story, the characters act on the basis of what is believed by the society to be the best choice instead of analyzing their own feelings and doing what they think is best for them:
“If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated” (Austen Chapter 23).
The given excerpt shows that, deluded by their own misconceptions, the characters in the novel were guided by persuasion instead of the call of their hearts, which made the characters unhappy.
For instance, persuasion rules the life of Anne, the leading female character mentioned above. Persuaded by her vain father and Lady Russell to reject the love of her life and choose a wealthier man as her husband, she is a rather complex character: “I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.” (Austen Chapter 23).
Her rejection of Captain Frederick’s love can be interpreted as either a result of her father and Lady Russell’s persuasion, and as a well thought-out step of a very strong-willed person, who has decided to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her relationships with her father and the ability to support her family later on, even though she realizes how ethically wrong it is.
Hence the conflict between ethics and moral duty appears, making Anne’s character even more complex: “When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated” (Austen Chapter 23), she would explain later on to Mr. Elliot.
By saying this, Anne clarifies that she was not only under the persuasion of her father when being pushed into marrying the man whom she never loved. Instead, Anne was under the persuasion of her own, i.e., the delusion that her marrying someone according to her father’s will would be the right thing to do. Therefore, under the persuasion of her father and society regarding what her duty is, Anne decides to sacrifice her love.
It would be wrong to assume that Anne is the only character who acts under the guidance of persuasion. Her father can also be considered the victim of persuasion. The fact that Sir Walter is continuously forcing himself to do what his vanity accepts, he makes his daughter suffer.; however, after Sir Walter realizes that Anne would be much happier with Wentworth, he fights his persuasion successfully:
“When he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims” (Austen Chapter 24).
Despite the fact that Sir Elliot’s vanity persuaded him to direct his daughter’s life the way which he considered right, he finally manages to see past his vanity. As a result, his persuasion subsides.
However, one person in the novel still manages to get out of the tight grip of persuasion and pride. This person is Frederick Wentworth, who finally manages to swallow his pride for the sake of his happiness:
“This nut … while so many of its brethren have fallen and been trodden under foot, is still in possession of all the happiness that a hazel-nut can be supposed capable of” (Austen Chapter 10). While his pride and convictions also rule his life, he finally manages to fight his persuasion and make the first step towards his reconciliation with Anne.
A matter of pride: where persuasion stems from
Perhaps, even the greatest writers tend to repeat themselves; once a certain issue has been raised in one of the novels, it can also be found in the rest of the creations. However, only the true masters of literature can weave these concepts into the story canvas without hurting the plot, the characters or any other relevant part of the novel.
Sir Walter is not the only character, whose pride hurts too much to take the right step; the rest of the characters are also tied with their decision to follow their mind instead of their heart and, therefore, suffer greatly. Austen makes it clear that in most cases, a hart-to-heart talk would have solved half, if not all, the complexities between the characters; however, each of them prefers silent pain.
One of the most graphic examples concerns Captain Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot. Austin makes it especially clear that these two characters only have to make a tiny effort; yet the wall of pride that they have built between each other keeps them safely alienated: “I was proud, too proud to ask again” (Austen Chapter 8), Wentworth confesses.
Whenever these two characters come to speak to each other, one can feel a tangible air of pretense and willingness to take a grip of one’s emotions; yet they prefer suffering their pain instead of sacrificing their pride.
“His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything” (Austen Chapter 8); however, Anna prefers to grind and bear it instead of explaining herself. Therefore, pride can also be considered the motif of the novel.
Conclusion: Silence! The Mind Speaks
Intertwined in a single motif, persuasion and pride seem the only basic themes in Jane Austen’s Persuasion; the novel could have been named Persuasion and Pride, for that matter.
While Austen also touches upon a range of important social issues, including the ones related to family, as well as the conflict between a person’s desires and inclinations and his/her call of duty, and a number of other social issues relevant for the epoch portrayed in the novel, the focus is on the issue that have always been topical and will remain topical centuries later – the conflict between one’s heart and mind.
Ringing in every paragraph of the novel, persuasion as the key motivation of the characters and the resulting suffering clearly are the key motifs of the novel, and the compromise is its natural outcome.
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. 1816. Web. <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/105/105-h/105-h.htm>.
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