Discuss Austen's novel Persuasion as social commentary or social criticism.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This novel, like many of Austen's works, acts as a social commentary on marriage and courtship in society. In many ways, this novel concerns itself with the vexing question of how we choose a partner in life. This novel presents marriage as being something that is very much related to class. As Anne's earlier refusal of Captain Wentworth's hand shows, a young girl of that time was obliged to carry out her father's will and to submit to his decisions, no matter her own personal thoughts and feelings. This is why when Sir Walter refused to give his permission for Anne to marry, with Lady Russel's full backing, Anne had to submit to their judgement, even though it gave her great pain. Note how she justifies this decision to Wentworth later on in the novel:

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.

Anne here acknowledges the wisdom of Lady Russel's decision, as at the time a marriage with Wentworth would have represented a very risky alliance for Anne as it would have been a drop in status for her and Wentworth had not yet earned himself a name and money. Austen, and through her Anne, therefore treats marriage and courtship with a very rational, logical disposition, unlike some of the more sentimental characters who are presented as being rather foolish in their attempts to marry, such as the off-target stratagem of Miss Clay to marry Sir Walter demonstrates.


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