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What do you think is the main theme or message in Sense and Sensibility?

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manaljaber | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:23 AM via web

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What do you think is the main theme or message in Sense and Sensibility?

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

Posted April 6, 2011 at 7:31 PM (Answer #1)

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Well, in any Austen novel the theme of courtship and marriage and the complex social negotiations that they represent is a good one to explore and think through. This excellent novel is all about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and the vexing question of who will they marry. Yet their social position is one that reduces their possibilities of making a "good match" considerably, as is the case with a number of Austen's heroines. Likewise, the way in which the favour in which a suitor is received is directly related to the amount of wealth he has. This, of course, brings great sadness to both of the two protagonists. Willoughby discards Marianne, even though he did love her, because of his need for money and her lack of it. Mrs. Ferrars uses her power as matriarch to try and force her sons to make appropriate matches based on connections and wealth.

Note too the way in which Austen presents us with two different approaches to love and marriage through the sisters and how they manage courtship and the rejection that they both suffer. Throughout the novel, sense, in the person of Elinor's rational and practical approach to romance, is contrasted with sensibility, which of course is characterised by Marianne's flighty and impulsive passions. Austen seems to be presenting us with two opposites, and pointing towards the merits of approaching the problematic issue of love and marriage with a head full of sense rather than sensibility. Tellingly, at the end of the novel, Marianne herself recognises her own faults and adopts a more practical and down-to-earth approach, as exemplified in her marriage to the Colonel.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 6, 2011 at 9:04 PM (Answer #2)

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We could also consider the following:

The main theme or message in Sense and Sensibility is basically stated in the title itself: The everyday struggle between common sense versus emotions: Sense VERSUS Sensibility.

"Sense", referring to "common sense", is embodied in the character of Elinor.Her poised and calm nature helped her not only survive her own emotional ordeals, but she also helped her sister survive hers. Her "sense" maintained the balance in the Dashwood household even at their most depressing moments (i.e. during their entailment ordeal). Hence, Elinor represents the need to maintain a clear mind and a strong heart at all times.

"Sensibility", refers to "excitability" and "emotion", and it is personified in the character of Marianne. As a foil of Elinor, Marianne let her senses overrule her common sense. As a result, she made several mistakes that led to her suffering and to her final breakdown. Marianne's ordeals are Austen's way of warning us about not letting triviality take over our mental processes. Otherwise, you will suffer unnecessarily the way Marianne did.

To support this argument, notice how there is a clear partiality in Austen's way of portraying these two characters. In the novel she openly favors and applauds Elinor's sense while while she subtlety attacks Marianne's sensibility. Elinor is the clear heroine, while Marianne is the victim of her own weakness. Austen wanted Elinor, and her common sense, to be praised and valued at all times. Contrastingly, she placed Marianne in a sickbed, depressed, and betrayed as a result of her lack of rationality.

The reader would wonder: Could this have been because Austen, herself, was an "Elinor" type who witnessed the many "Marianne's" of her generation consistently failing to make a mark in society, in their families, or in their own lives due to the silly nature of their emotional ordeals?

In conclusion, the message in Sense and Sensibility is the theme  "Common sense versus emotions " or "Sense versus "Sensibility": The struggle to keep a clear mind over the chaotic potential of strong emotions.

 

 

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