Is there any particular importance to the recurring motif of children in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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By referring to children in the novel, Austen seems to be making a social comment on the effects of spoiling children.

One example is seen in Lady Middleton. Austen describes being a mother as Lady Middleton's only resource, or ability, while hunting is Sir John's only resource. Austen also describes Lady Middleton as spoiling "her children all the year round" (Ch. 7). Austen even states that for the most part, Lady Middleton was a very cold person, and only seemed to enjoy herself when the moment after dinner her "four noisy children" entered the room, "who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves" (Ch. 7).

However, not only does Austen speak of the Middleton children as being spoiled, she also speaks of other characters being spoiled, such as John Dashwood and his son. Austen opens the book with an account of how the Dashwood girls had been mistreated with respect to an inheritance. Our heroines' father, Henry Dashwood, went to live with his uncle who owned Norland. There he raised our heroines and cared for his wife. However, Henry Dashwood's uncle took a liking to Henry's older son, John Dashwood, and therefore left the whole of the estate to John and only a thousand pounds a piece for the girls. The more serious problem is that John was spoiled as a child and grew to be "rather cold hearted and rather selfish" (Ch. 1). Therefore, when upon his deathbed Henry begged John to financially help his mothers and sisters, John allowed himself to be talked out of it by his even more cold-hearted and selfish wife.

Hence, we see that Austen is using the reference of spoiled children to show just what terrible character traits spoiling a child can create.


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