The Theme of Sense and Sensibility Essay (Critical Writing)
Updated: Nov 28th, 2019
The most outstanding quality derived from the novel, Sense and Sensibility, is the author’s deep penetrating character analysis. Jane Austen, the author, articulates all aspects of human characters in each chapter of the book – strengths, weaknesses, desires, and limitations.
She often makes larger points about society through the descriptions of her characters. The novel, as most evident in its title, also intends to show comparison between the major characters (who are sisters) personalities. Elinor, the eldest sister, underscores the sense and sensibility of the title, while her younger sister, Marianne, personifies the lack of sense and sensibility in her utter lack of emotional control.
Through them, the author brings out the theme of sense and sensibility by differentiating their traits in their relation to the rest of the characters. This paper explores the theme of sense and sensibility, and the lack of it, in details and shows how each of the characters stands out in relation to the theme. The author uses sense and sensibility to navigate through the characters and bring out their main attributes.
The Theme-Sense and Sensibility
The theme of sense and sensibility comes out as the difference of character between the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Their personalities and interactions with their neighbors draw attention to the reader, as they differ immensely right from the onset of the story .In some instances, the author exposes them to similar situations intentionally; to show the reader how each of them would react and whether they would be sensible or let their emotions determine their decision making ability.
Austen uses Elinor to play the sensible role in the novel. Austen’s opinion of the rest of her characters nearly co-occurs with that of Elinor (Poplawski 17). She is socially responsible, self-disciplined, and reasonable.
Moreover, she possesses understanding and the coolness of judgment, qualities that draw admiration from Edward Ferrars. By choosing, not to tell her sister the whole truth about Willoughby’s confession, Elinor exemplifies sense. At a tender age of nineteen, she is surprisingly mature for her age; she even offers counsel to her mother (Allbery Para.4) .
She is concerned about her sister’s lack of sense and even suspects Willoughby’s intentions with her. She defends Colonel Brandon to her sister, Marianne, and Willoughby when they begin to prejudice and mock him. She is distressed when Willoughby remarks that the Colonel strikes him as boring and unremarkable, when to her, he is sensible and well informed. She points out that, “My protégé, as you call him, is a sensible man; and sense will always have attractions for me” (Austen 50).
By this statement, she openly shows how much she values and admires sense. Moreover, Elinor appreciates Colonel Brandon’s nobility and reserve, qualities that Willoughby is not able to see due to his dislike for him. Willoughby openly shows his hatred towards the colonel by telling Elinor that, she cannot deny him the privilege of disliking him (Austen 51). This shows how Austen characterizes Willoughby as excessively sensible.
Marianne on the contrary, is excessively emotional and openly pessimistic; she has neither sense nor sensibility. She is selfish, unrealistic, and emotionally weak. She even confesses to her mother that she does not see herself finding a man whom she can really love (Austen 4). Marianne confides to her mother that she does not understand why Edward has not come to visit them of late; she even, in her lack of sense, notes that she is sure that Edward is not well.
Marianne’s own preference for Willoughby over the colonel and its disastrous consequences reveal how excessive sensibility and appearance could cloud a person’s judgment of human character. She shows her emotional weakness, which underscores her lack of sense and sensibility, when she cannot eat or sleep after Willoughby leaves (Morland 63).
She is very disturbed and even falls ill when Willoughby chooses to marry another woman, actions that make her, and those around her, as miserable as possible. Therefore, through Marianne’s inability to use common sense when situations demand so, Austen manages to highlight the theme of lack of sense and sensibility in this masterpiece.
Austen illustrates her view of the superiority of rationality, sensibility, and self-control over emotions. Though Marianne has fallen for John Willoughby, she grows to love the Colonel, a sensible man. Elinor refrains from judging other characters based on appearances alone and constantly seems to be the one that has utmost reasoning and understanding in character judgment.
The book serves to inform the reader the importance of getting to know a person before being prejudicial or judgmental. The fact that Elinor is portrayed as strong, does not necessarily mean that she did not have any feelings, but goes to show how much self control she had by not allowing them to get the best of her (Austen 54).
The author shows her value for sense over sensibility by choosing to give Elinor the happy conclusion she deserves when she eventually marries Edward. On the other hand, Marianne whines throughout the story (even though she changes towards the end) to show how lack of sense and sensibility can affect an otherwise a reasonable person.
Tone and Satire
Austen has used satire in the book to capture the reader’s attention and provide a different form of humor. Her satiric voice and her understanding of human nature are evident, particularly when she comments on the role of Lady Middleton’s son. She sees him as a center of attention between the Dashwoods and the Middletons and brings him along so that, incase they run out of things to say, they would admire his beauty and enquire of his name and age, questions which his mother would answer for him.
The tone in the novel is sad. The death of Mr. Dashwood’s sister leaves him distraught and forces him to invite Henry and his family to stay with him. Marianne ends up being heart broken by Willoughby’s marriage to Miss Sophia Grey, while Mrs. Ferrars decides to disinherit her eldest son, Edward, leaving him in serious financial difficulties (Morland 87).
Miss Ferrars disowns her son for his intention to marry Lucy Steele whom she considers of low social and financial standing. Elinor learns that she has been misinformed and duped all along about Edward’s persuasions after Lucy Steele admits that she is betrothed to Edward. Elinor becomes extremely heart broken on the publication of Lucy’s engagement and becomes wounded when she mistakenly believes that Edward has wed.
In conclusion, Austen uses the story, Sense and Sensibility, to highlight the importance of the same virtues. Elinor’s good sense makes Marianne change her life and become reasonable. Marianne uses emotions and misplaced passions to make decisions and that is why she spends a long time complaining about everything around her.
Austen, therefore, uses Marianne and Elinor to explore the theme of sense and sensibility and the lack of it thereof. She also uses satire to spice up the story even though she adopts a sad note by including death, hurt, and heartbreak in the story. As the story concludes, it is evident that, sense and sensibility outweigh the lack of the same.
Allbery, Russ. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen book Review, 2010. Web.. <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/0-14-010649-9a.html>
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. Sothampton: Penguin Books, 2003.
Morland, Perkins. Reshaping the Sexes in Sense and Sensibility. Virginia: Union Press of Virginia, 1998.
Poplawski, Paul. A Jane Austen Encyclopedia. Conneticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.
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